Summary: Chapter 28

Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. . . . An’ when our folks eat [what] they raise an’ live in the houses they build . . . I’ll be there.

See Important Quotations Explained

At the cotton fields, the Joads are given a boxcar to live in, but they are forced to share it with another family, the Wainwrights. They soon make enough money to buy food and clothing, and Ma Joad is even able to indulge and treat Ruthie and Winfield to a box of Cracker Jack candy. When another girl, envious of Ruthie’s treat, picks a fight with her, Ruthie boasts angrily that her older brother has killed two men and is now in hiding. Ma Joad hurries into the woods to warn Tom that his secret has been revealed. Sorrowfully, she urges him to leave lest he be caught. Tom shares with his mother some of Jim Casy’s words of wisdom, which he has been pondering since his friend died: every man’s soul is simply a small piece of a great soul. Tom says that he has decided to unify his soul with this great soul by working to organize the people, as Casy would have wanted. Ma reminds Tom that Casy died for his efforts, but Tom jokes that he will be faster to duck out of harm’s way. As Ma returns to the boxcar, the owner of a small farm stops her and tells her he needs pickers for his twenty acres. Ma brings the news of the job back to the boxcar, where Al announces that he and Agnes Wainwright plan to be married. The families celebrate.

The next day, the two families travel to the small plantation, where so many workers have amassed that the entire crop is picked before noon. Glumly, the family returns to the boxcar, and it begins to rain.

Summary: Chapter 29

Rain lashes the land, and no work can be done during the deluge. Rivers overflow, and cars wash away in the coursing mud. The men are forced to beg and to steal food. The women watch the men in apprehension, worried that they might finally see them break. Instead, however, they see the men’s fear turning to anger. The women know that their men will remain strong as long as they can maintain their rage.

Summary: Chapter 30

The rain continues to fall. On the third day of the storm, the skies still show no sign of clearing. Rose of Sharon, sick and feverish, goes into labor. The truck has flooded, and the family has no choice but to remain in the boxcar. At Pa’s urging, the men work to build a makeshift dam to keep the water from flooding their shelter or washing it away. However, an uprooted tree cascades into the dam and destroys it. When Pa Joad enters the car, soaked and defeated, Mrs. Wainwright informs him that Rose of Sharon has delivered a stillborn baby. The family sends Uncle John to bury the child. He ventures into the storm, places the improvised coffin in the stream, and watches the current carry it away. The rains continue. Pa spends the last of the family’s money on food.

On the sixth day of rain, the flood begins to overtake the boxcar, and Ma decides that the family must seek dry ground. Al decides to stay with the Wainwrights and Agnes. Traveling on foot, the remaining Joads spot a barn and head toward it. There, they find a dying man and small boy. The boy tells them that his father has not eaten for six days, having given all available food to his son. The man’s health has deteriorated to such an extent that he cannot digest solid food; he needs soup or milk. Ma looks to Rose of Sharon, and the girl at once understands her unstated thoughts. Rose of Sharon asks everyone to leave the barn and, once alone, she approaches the starving man. Despite his protests, she holds him close and suckles him.

Analysis: Chapters 28–30

The end of The Grapes of Wrath is among the most memorable concluding chapters in American literature. Tom continues the legacy of Jim Casy as he promises to live his life devoted to a soul greater than his own. Recognizing the truth in the teachings of the Christ-like Casy, Tom realizes that a person’s highest calling is to put him- or herself in the service of the collective good. As Tom leaves his family to fight for social justice, he completes the transformation that began several chapters earlier. Initially lacking the patience and energy to consider the future at all, he marches off to lead the struggle toward making that future a kinder and gentler one.

Read more about how Jim Casy plays a vital role in the transformation of Tom Joad into a social activist.

Without Tom, and without food or work, the Joads sink, in the novel’s final chapter, to their most destitute moment yet. Nonetheless, the book ends on a surprisingly hopeful note: Steinbeck uses a collection of symbols, most of them borrowed from biblical stories, to inject a deeply spiritual optimism into his bleak tale. Thus, while the rain represents a damaging force that threatens to wash away the few possessions the Joads have left, it also represents a power of renewal. The reader recalls Steinbeck’s phrasing in Chapter 29, in which the text notes that the downpours, although causing great destruction, also enable the coming of spring: we read that the raindrops are followed by “[t]iny points of grass,” making the hills a pale green.

Even the events surrounding the birth of the dead baby contain images of hope. As Uncle John floats the child downstream, Steinbeck invokes the story of Moses, who, as a baby, was sent down the Nile, and later delivered his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land of Israel. As John surrenders the tiny body to the currents, he tells it: “Go down an’ tell ’em. Go down in the street an’ rot an’ tell ’em that way. That’s the way you can talk.” The child’s corpse becomes a symbolic messenger, charged with the task of testifying to his people’s suffering. (Again, in John’s speech we find an allusion to the life of the Hebrew prophet: his words echo the refrain of the traditional folk gospel song “Go Down, Moses.”)

Says . . . he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says . . . [his piece] wasn’t no good ’less it was with the rest, an’ was whole.

See Important Quotations Explained

Read more about the symbolism behind Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy.

The closing image of the novel is imbued with equal spiritual power as Rose of Sharon and the starving man in the barn form the figure of a Pietà—a famous motif in visual art in which the Virgin Mary holds the dead Christ in her lap. As Rose of Sharon suckles the dying man, we watch her transform from the complaining, naïve, often self-centered girl of previous chapters into a figure of maternal love. As a mother whose child has been sacrificed to send a larger message to the world, she assumes a role similar to that of the mother of Christ. Like Mary, she represents ultimate comfort and protection from suffering, confirming an image of the world in which generosity and self-sacrifice are the greatest of virtues.

Read more about the theme of the dignity of wrath.