The Grapes of Wrath Floyd Knowles Quotes

Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

Floyd Knowles plays a pivotal role in the Joads' journey in 'The Grapes of Wrath', in spite of only appearing for a short time in the book. He makes Tom and Al confront some tough realities about their future in California.

Explaining the System

Floyd Knowles is one of the first people Tom Joad meets after he and his family arrive in California. At this stage, although Tom has heard distressing rumors, he still believes that it is possible to find work and make a life in California. Floyd, on the other hand, has been trying to do this for awhile and has grown discouraged. He has also figured out how the system works and why it is not possible for someone to beat it alone. When Tom asks him why the landowners would encourage so many workers to flock to California, Floyd explains:

'S'pose you got a job a work, an' there's jus' one fella wants the job. You got to pay 'im what he asts. But s'pose they's a hunderd men... S'pose they's a hunderd men wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box a mush for them kids. S'pose a nickel'll buy at leas' somepin for them kids. An' you got a hunderd men. Jus' offer 'em a nickel - why, they'll kill each other fightin' for that nickel.'

And, in fact, this is what we see countless times in the book - not men literally killing each other over a nickel, of course, but families agreeing to work for very little because they have no other option. As Floyd notes, people will do anything if their children's lives are at stake.

Just Another Vagrant...

Tom, still new to all of this, suggests that the workers might organize; after all, with a force of thousands, they could surely compel the landowners to pay. Not surprisingly, Floyd has an answer for this, too: if someone positions himself as a leader and attempts to organize a strike, he'll be put in jail. Tom is getting angrier and angrier as he begins to understand the situation, and he suggests that he will 'kick the hell outa somebody' if anyone gives him trouble; even a cop. Floyd explains how that scenario would play out:

'They'll pick you right off. You got no name, no property. They'll find you in a ditch, with the blood dried on your mouth an' your nose. Be one little line in the paper - know what it'll say? 'Vagrant foun' dead.' An' that's all. You'll see a lot of them little lines, 'Vagrant foun' dead'.'

This is a powerful quote because it demonstrates graphically how little power Tom and his family have in their new lives in California. As far as the police and the landowners are concerned, the migrants are all the same, and they are all disposable. If the police identify them as vagrants, then that is the beginning and the end of the story.

Floyd Spells It Out

Late in the day, when both Tom and Al are talking to Floyd, Floyd tries to encourage them to go north with him, where there is a rumor of work. As they've just arrived that day, Tom is hesitant to go. Although Floyd has told him numerous times that there is no work in the area, Tom finds this very hard to accept. Finally, Floyd explains patiently:

'I know ya jus' got here. They's stuff ya got to learn. If you'd let me tell ya, it'd save ya somepin. If ya don' let me tell ya, then ya got to learn the hard way. You ain't gonna settle down 'cause they ain't no work to settle ya. An' your belly ain't gonna let ya settle down. Now - that's straight.'

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