The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 30 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

Chapter 30 of 'The Grapes of Wrath', the final chapter of the book, includes Rose of Sharon having her baby -- a stillbirth -- and the Joad family having to move along again once their boxcar is flooded.

Dealing with the Rain

The final chapter of The Grapes of Wrath begins with the Joads trying to decide what to do now that the rain is coming. Although the boxcar has provided a safe and relatively comfortable home, it is clear that it's only a matter of time before the waters rise high enough to flood them out. Pa and Uncle John talk and decide that there are two choices: either all the men in the camp can work together to 'throw up a bank' around the boxcars, or everyone will have to leave. With the amount of work involved in building the bank, it's very much an 'all or nothing' proposition. Pa and Uncle John leave their boxcar to talk to the other men and try to convince them.

Rose of Sharon's Time Has Come

Meanwhile, Rose of Sharon, who has developed a fever from working in the cotton fields in the rain, goes into labor. Ma and Mrs. Wainwright do what they can to assist her, but obviously they are limited in their supplies, and Rose of Sharon is too ill to do very much herself. They eventually manage to get her onto her feet, and the two women support her as she paces through her labor pains. Pa and Uncle John come back to the boxcar, learn that Rose of Sharon is about to have her baby, and realize that now they have no choice but to stay. The men begin to work furiously to stay ahead of the rains: 'Over the men came a fury of work, a fury of battle. When one man dropped his shovel, another took it up.' As they continue to work through the day, they become increasingly fatigued, but still they continue to do what they can, working through their exhaustion.

The Dam Bursts

The bank continues to hold off the water for awhile, until a tree is felled by the rain; the tree is carried along the stream of water and rips through the bank, destroying it and releasing the flood. Eventually, seeing that there is nothing left to be done, Pa goes into the boxcar to check on Rose of Sharon. Ma shows him the baby -- a stillbirth -- and tells him that Rose of Sharon is sleeping. Pa asks whether they could have done anything differently that might have caused things to turn out better. Ma offers a reply which more or less sums up the Joads' story from the beginning of the book: 'No. They was on'y one thing to do -- ever -- an' we done it.' This final chapter, in which they have no choice but to build the dam, so they do it; and they have no choice but for Rose of Sharon to do her best to have her baby pacing through the boxcar with a fever, so they do it; is emblematic of their lack of choice throughout the book. The Joads have simply done the only thing they can do at every turn, and have persevered, but they have been defeated at every turn. But they keep going, as they will this time, too.

Moving Forward

Although some of the men are angry that their cars have been destroyed by the rain, which would not have happened if they had left initially, the men come to terms with the fact that there is nothing they can do except try to survive their current circumstances. They decide to remove the boards from the truck so that they can make a platform to keep their belongings safe and dry, hoping that in a week they will be ready and able to move on again.

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