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The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 29 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Chapter 29 of ''The Grapes of Wrath'' describes truly desperate times for the migrant families. The rains come and do not stop, leaving men in the position of begging and stealing to help their families survive until there's work again.

The Rains Come

Chapter 29 opens with a description of the rain coming in and settling over the west, evidently to stay for a long time. After descriptions of the clouds, wind, and powerful raindrops, we are told, 'For two days the earth drank the rain, until the earth was full.' Once this is the case, the flooding begins, including trees coming down, water getting into the fields, and highways holding too much water to be driven on.

Effects on Migrant Workers

Needless to say, the rain is very bad news for migrant workers. At first, they wait, hoping that the rain will eventually slow and stop. When it becomes clear that it will not stop soon, the migrants work quickly to protect their tents, building small dikes around them to keep the water out. These dikes do not hold forever, though, and water gets inside, leaving people to live and sleep on wet clothes and blankets, finding some respite by sitting on top of wooden planks. Eventually it becomes clear that they will simply have to move on, but by then their cars have been damaged by the rain, and they won't start. We are given this heartbreaking description of their departure: 'And the people waded away, carrying their wet blankets in their arms. They splashed along, carrying the children, carrying the very old, in their arms. And if a barn stood on high ground, it was filled with people, shivering and hopeless.' As usual, Steinbeck offers vivid details that evoke empathy for the suffering of the migrant workers, who can never quite get a break.

No Relief, No Aid

Because it the rain has removed any possibility of work, the workers approach relief offices, hoping to find some assistance until jobs are available again. Unfortunately, nothing can be done for them, because of laws that dictate that people must have lived in a state for over a year to be eligible for financial assistance. And so the people continue to suffer.

Desperate Men, Desperate Measures

Since there is no work and no assistance, the people grow increasingly hopeless. They continue to stay in the barns as everyone remains hungry, and sickness spreads. Measles and pneumonia spread quickly, with no apparent end in sight. The men leave the barns in attempts to provide something for their families; they continue to visit relief offices, and they try begging and stealing--these are desperate times, and the men try everything they can to save their families. However, while people in the towns are initially sympathetic to the plight of the migrant workers, they eventually grow concerned about their own safety: 'And in the little towns pity for the sodden men changed to anger, and anger at the hungry people changed to fear of them. Then sheriffs swore in deputies in droves, and orders were rushed for rifles, for tear gas, for ammunition.' Meanwhile, hungry and desperate men continue to do what they can to get food, and to get the attention of doctors and, more and more frequently, coroners, who we are told are quite busy.

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