“We’re Joads. We don’t look up to nobody. Grampa’s grampa, he fit in the Revolution. We was farm people till the debt. And then—them people. They done somepin to us. Ever’ time they come seemed like they was a-whippin’ me—all of us. An’ in Needles, that police. He done somepin to me, made me feel mean. Made me feel ashamed. An’ now I ain’t ashamed. These folks is our folks—is our folks. An’ that manager, he come an’ set an’ drank coffee, an’ he says, ‘Mrs. Joad’ this, an’ ‘Mrs. Joad’ that—an’ ‘How you getting’ on, Mrs. Joad?’” She stopped and sighed. “Why, I feel like people again.”
After the Joads arrive in the Weedpatch government camp in Chapter 22, Ma discusses the effects of life on the road. It has, she reports, changed her. The open gestures of hostility the family has suffered at the hands of policemen and landowners have made her “mean,” petty, hardened. In Weedpatch, however, for the first time since leaving Oklahoma she is treated like a human being. The camp manager’s kindness rekindles her sense of connection in the world: “These is our folks,” she says. Ma’s speech underlines the importance of fellowship among the migrants, suggesting that, given their current difficulties, one cannot afford to bear one’s burdens alone.
Throughout The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck emphasizes the importance of the self-respect and sense of dignity that Ma displays here. The unfair treatment the migrants receive does not simply create hardship for them; it diminishes them as human beings. As long as people maintain a sense of injustice, however—a sense of anger against those who seek to undercut their pride in themselves—they will never lose their dignity. This notion is reinforced particularly at the end of the book, in the images of the festering grapes of wrath (Chapter 25) and in the last of the short, expository chapters (Chapter 29), in which the worker women, watching their husbands and brothers and sons, know that these men will remain strong “as long as fear [can] turn to wrath.”