In a long summer drought in Oklahoma, farmers with handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths stare at the dying and dusty cornfields wondering about their families’ survival.
Tom Joad, just released from a state penitentiary after serving four years for manslaughter, hitches a ride to his father's farm with a trucker. The driver tells him that many families have been driven off their farms by landowners and banks, that the lonely life on the road can affect a man, and that Tom being an ex-convict doesn't bother him.
A turtle crosses the highway. A woman avoids hitting it, but a young man drives straight at the turtle and sends it flying off the road, onto its back. Eventually the turtle manages to flip itself back over and continue on its way.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 1–3
On the road to his family's farm, Tom picks up a turtle and carries it with him. He then runs into his old preacher, Jim Casy, who shares some of Tom's liquor, admits he used to sleep with young women, listens to Tom's explanation of how he killed a man in a fight while drunk, and goes with him to the farm, which they find deserted.
Landowners and banks, unable to make high profits from tenant farmers, evict them from the land, sometimes paying their own neighbors to drive tractors over the crops and houses, and suggest they go to California where there is work.
Tom and Casy find the Joads’ farmhouse only partially crushed. They then see Muley Graves, who reports that after a large company bought the land and evicted the tenant farmers, Tom's family moved in with his Uncle John to pick cotton and earn enough money to buy a car for their journey to California. Muley's family has also lost their land and departed, but he shares the rabbits he hunted with Tom and Casy, and invites them to stay with him in the cave where he sleeps.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 4–6
A used-car salesman explains to his employees how to cheat departing families, by selling them broken-down vehicles, filling engines with sawdust to conceal noisy transmissions, replacing good batteries with cracked ones, and charging very high prices.
At his uncle's, Tom reunites with his parents, Pa and Ma Joad, who inform him they are about to leave for California with old Grampa and Granma Joad, and Tom’s brother Noah. At breakfast, Granma insists Casy say a prayer even though he no longer preaches. Pa shows Tom the truck he bought. When his sixteen-year-old brother Al arrives, Tom learns that his two youngest siblings, Ruthie and Winfield, are in town with Uncle John and that another sister, Rose of Sharon, has married Connie, a neighbor farmer, and is pregnant.
In order to raise money for the journey to California, tenant farmers are forced to pawn most of their belongings for very low prices.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 7–9
Pa Joad manages to sell some possessions for a mere eighteen dollars. The family decides to take Casy with them. After Rose and Connie arrive and Muley Graves bids the family good-bye, Grampa suddenly wants to stay, but the family laces his coffee with sleeping medicine, takes him asleep onto the truck, and leaves for California.
Although corporate farm workers continue to work on the vacant lands, they don't have the same knowledge of and relationship with the land as a farmer and therefore leave the farmhouses to be invaded by animals and crumble in the dust and wind.
Long lines of cars creep down Highway 66, full of tenant farmers who have to stop often to buy car parts, are cheated by salesmen, struggle to reach the next service station, and are met with hostility and suspicion by people suggesting they return from whence they came.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 10–12
Al drives their truck along Route 66 and, at a service station, argues with an attendant. While there, the family's dog is hit by a car, and the attendant agrees to bury it. They continue on their journey, camping along the roadside and meeting Ivy Wilson and his wife, Sairy, whose car has broken down. As Grampa is sick, the Wilsons offer him their tent, but he dies. The Joads bury him, which is against the law, and convince the Wilsons to travel together to California.
People in the West don't understand what has happened in the Midwest and fear the incoming migrants might unite and start a revolt.
At a coffee shop on Route 66, as a waitress named Mae tells two friendly truckers that the migrant farmers are rumored to be thieves, a tattered man and his two boys ask to buy a loaf of bread for a dime. Mae brushes them off, but Al, the cook, convinces her to give the man some bread and sell him some candy the boys are staring at for less. The truckers, witnessing the scene, leave Mae an extra-large tip.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 13–15
The Wilsons' car breaks down again, and Al and Tom go looking for parts while the families wait. Al and Tom spend some time listening to a tearful attendant complain about the injustices of his job. Meanwhile, Pa Joad talks to a man who says there is no work in California despite the handbills' promises, and that his wife and children have starved to death. This worries Pa, but Casy says the Joads may have a different experience.
As masses of cars travel together and camp along the highway, little communities spring up among the migrant farmers with their own rules of conduct.
In the California desert, the men go bathing in a river and meet a father and son who were unable to make a living in California and offer up a warning. The family continues their journey, leaving behind Noah, who has decided to remain, and the Wilsons, as Sairy's health is failing. During the night, when police stop them, Ma pleads with the officer to let them go, claiming Granma needs medical attention. When they cross into the valley, Ma reports Granma had been dead since before the inspection.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 16–18
California once belonged to Mexico but was taken by Americans who believed they owned the land because they farmed it. Their descendants are now wealthy farmers who defend their lands with security guards, pay their laborers extremely low wages, and consider the migrants dangerous to their stability.
The Joads leave Granma's body at a coroner's office. At Hooverville, a crowded camp of unemployed families, a man named Floyd Knowles says there are no jobs and that people who speak against the landowners are blacklisted. When Knowles confronts a contractor, he’s arrested on a bogus charge. A scuffle ensues in which the police officer wounds a bystander, Tom trips the officer, and Casy knocks the officer unconscious. When more police arrive, Casy takes the fall for Tom. The family departs, leaving word for Connie, who was last seen walking south. At a nearby town, the family is turned away by a crowd of men.
Terrified of the migrants, California locals form armed bands to terrorize them and keep them in their place, and large farm owners drive smaller farmers out of business, making more people destitute.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 19–21
The Joads come across Weedpatch, a camp where migrants govern themselves. Tom meets Timothy and Wilkie Wallace, who take him to find a job at the ranch where they work. Their boss, Mr. Thomas, tells them about the Farmers' Association which plans to send instigators into the camp on Saturday night to start a riot, giving the police the right to arrest labor organizers and evict the migrants. Meanwhile, Ma and Rose learn about the camp’s rules. Tom finds work, but Pa, Al, and Uncle John do not.
When the migrants are not working or looking for work, they make music, tell folktales, drink, and listen to preachers' sermons as a means of finding escape and salvation.
On the night of the camp dance, when the Farmers' Association plans to start a riot, the chairman of the camp committee, Ezra Hudson, hires men to look out for instigators. They identify the instigators and evict them from the camp. Later that night, a man tells a story about a group of mountain people who joined a union and marched through the town center with their rifles to prevent the locals from running them out of town.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 22–24
Spring is beautiful in California, but many small local farmers, unable to compete with large landowners, watch their crops wither, their debts rise, and their wine go bad as anger and resentment spread throughout the land.
As the Joads prepare to leave Weedpatch, they learn of a job picking peaches nearby. Desperate, they take the job but only earn enough for one meal for the whole family. Tom discovers that Jim Casy, out of prison, now organizes migrant farmers and is striking against the peach farm. As Casy and Tom converse, two policemen arrive and attack Casy, crushing his skull, as well as Tom, who kills the officer. In the morning the Joads listen to Tom's story, leave the peach farm, and find work picking cotton, where they sneak food to Tom who’s hiding nearby.
At the cotton fields, wages are decent, but there are so many workers that some are unable to do enough even to pay for the sacks they buy on credit. Some of the owners rig the scales used to weigh the cotton, so the migrants often load stones in their sacks.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 25–27
The Joads share a boxcar with another family, the Wainwrights. When a girl picks a fight with Ruthie, she boasts her brother is now in hiding after killing two men. Ma urges Tom to flee, but Tom says he has decided to continue Casy's work and organize the laborers. Ma learns that a small farm owner needs pickers, and Al announces that he and Agnes Wainwright are getting married. The next day, the two families travel to the plantation, but there are too many workers and not enough cotton. The families return to the boxcar, and it begins to rain.
Rain lashes the land. No work can be done, rivers overflow, cars wash away, the men are forced to beg and steal food.
On the third stormy day, Rose delivers a stillborn baby, whose coffin is swept away by the rain. The men build a makeshift dam to protect the shelter, but it’s destroyed. Eventually the flood begins to overtake the boxcar and, leaving Al with Agnes and the Wainwrights, the remaining Joads leave to seek dry ground. In a barn, they find a dying man and a small boy, who tells them his father has not eaten for six days and can no longer digest solid food, so Rose asks everyone to leave the barn and suckles the man.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 28–30