After spending a month in the Weedpatch camp, the Joad men have been unable to find any sort of work. The family is running out of food, and Rose of Sharon's baby is due soon. Ma decides that they need to leave the camp to search for work. Her assumption of leadership angers Pa, but Ma continues to goad him. Her sassing is calculated to rile him up, figuring that if a man has something to get angry at, he'll be okay.
The Joads leave the government camp early the next morning. While fixing a flat tire on the truck, a well-dressed man offers them work as peach pickers. When they arrive at the Hooper Ranch, policemen escort them through wire gates. Angry, shouting people surround the entrance. Inside the gates, the Joads are registered and begin picking fruit for five cents a box. The entire family works and by sundown they have earned a dollar. Ma spends the dollar at the Hooper Ranch store but can only get some poor quality hamburger and a little coffee. The sales clerk is sarcastic, but Ma recognizes his shame. She asks for some credit in order to get a little sugar, but the clerk refuses. Surprisingly, however, he pays for the sugar and tells her to bring the credit slip so that he can get his dime back. She tells him she is learning that if "you're in trouble or hurt or need — go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help."
After supper, Tom attempts to find out what had angered the crowd of people around the gate. Slipping out of the ranch, he comes across Jim Casy in a roadside camp. Casy has been in jail and shares with Tom what he has learned about the effectiveness of group action by observing his fellow inmates working together. The ex-preacher then explains that he and the others in the camp are striking against Hooper Ranch. They were promised wages of five cents a box and then given two-and-a-half cents a box. The Joads are being paid five cents because they are strikebreakers. Once the strike has been squelched, the wage will be dropped.
As Casy is explaining this, they are met by a group of men with weapons and flashlights. They strike Casy in the head with a pick handle and kill him. Tom immediately grabs the handle and beats Casy's killer. He is struck in the face but is able to run away. Tom hides in the orchard until he can make his way back to the ranch.
The next morning, Tom tells the family what he has done. Knowing he would be recognized because of his broken nose, he stays in the house with Rosasharn while the rest of the Joads work. With Casy's death, the strike is broken, and the wage has been dropped to two-and-a-half cents a box. The family returns from their day of work with only $1.42. Winfield collapses because of dysentery he got from eating peaches. Pa tells Tom that he is being hunted, and there is talk of lynching. Tom wants to leave, but Ma won't let him. Once dark falls, they hide Tom in the truck and leave the ranch.
Al turns the truck north, keeping to the back roads to avoid any cops. They pass a row of boxcars and a sign that says, "Cotton Pickers Needed." The family agrees to get work picking cotton and hopefully, stay in one of the boxcars. Tom will hide down by the stream, near enough that Ma can bring him food each night. He'll remain there until his face heals.
Jim Casy's sacrificial act of going to jail for Tom was symbolic of his position as a Christ-figure, a symbolism that is strengthened in this chapter. While in jail, Casy sees the effectiveness of group action and attempts to relate this to Tom in the form of a parable about sour beans. His jail experience brought a full realization of his beliefs and spurred him to carry out these ideals. When Tom finds him, he is doing just that, leading a strike for a living wage. Like Christ, he will be killed to save his people, his dying words ("You don't know what you're a-doin'") paraphrase Jesus' dying words. Prior to his death, he attempts to get Tom to return to the camp and spread word of the strike to the workers. Tom refuses, not yet ready for this discipleship, but after Casy's death and a long period of reflection, he will be able to continue the work that Casy has begun.
Pa's decline and Ma's assumption of the leadership role within the family illustrate the negative inversion of Steinbeck's theme of human dignity as a product of human identity with the land. With Pa unable to provide for his family, he falls into moments of passivity and confusion. At the opening of the chapter, Ma must force the others to confront their situation. The government camp offers safety, but not work or food. Intuitively understanding that Pa needs to be angered in order to find his strength, she uses her impudence to spur him to action. After Tom has killed Casy's murderer, Ma again directs the family to hide Tom and leave the Hooper Ranch. She has no intention of taking over the traditionally masculine role of head of the household. Her only concern is maintaining the wholeness of her family. She longs for the day when they can be safe and together so that she might relinquish the leadership position and return to the traditionally accepted family structure.
strike a concerted refusal by employees to go on working in an attempt to force an employer to grant certain demands, as for higher wages, better working conditions, and so on.
union something united or unified; a whole made up of parts; esp. an organization or confederation uniting various individuals, political units, and so on.
to act flip [colloq.] to act flippantly or impertinently.
J.P. Morgan (1867-1943) U.S. financier; known as "Jack," to distinguish from his better-known father, J.P. "Pierpont" Morgan.
haycocks small, conical heaps of hay drying in a field.
vigilantes members of vigilance committees, groups that keep order or punish crime without legal authority.
strikebreaking the act of one who attempts to break up a strike, often by intimidating striking workers.
win'fall peaches here refers to windfall peaches; something blown down by the wind, as fruit from a tree.
Depression the period of economic depression which began in 1929 and lasted through most of the 1930s.
lynchin' to murder (an accused person) by mob action and without lawful trial, as by hanging.
culvert a pipe-like construction of stone, concrete, or metal, that passes under a road, railroad track, footpath, or through an embankment.
boxcars fully enclosed railroad freight cars.