The Grapes of Wrath

by: John Steinbeck

Chapters 22–24

As Tom’s political involvement increases, the reader notes a change in his character. At the beginning of the novel, Tom asserted that he was interested only in getting through the present day; thinking about the future proved too troubling a task. Now, however, devoted as he is to his family and his fellow migrants, Tom begins to look toward the future and its possibilities.

The Weedpatch camp changes not only individual characters but also the interactions among groups of characters. Thus, we witness a shift of power taking place within the Joad clan. Always a source of strength and indomitable love, Ma Joad begins to move into a space traditionally reserved for male family members: as Pa Joad suffers one failure after another, Ma is called upon to make decisions and guide the family. The altered family structure parallels the more general revision of traditional power structures in the camp. The farmers now make their own decisions, delegating duties according to notions of fairness and common sense rather than adhering to old hierarchies or submitting to individual cravings for control. As Jim Casy had predicted in Chapter 10 when he insisted on helping Ma salt the family’s meat, when faced with unprecedented hardship, people can no longer afford to stratify themselves according to gender, age, or other superficial differences.