The Joads are one of the first families to get work picking cotton, so they are able to live in one of the boxcars. They share this dwelling with another family, the Wainwrights. The Joads are able to earn enough money to have meat each night and are able to buy some new clothing and some Cracker Jacks for the children.
While Ma is cooking supper that evening, Winfield rushes in to tell her that Ruthie has gotten into a fight and childishly boasted to the other children that her big brother was hiding because he had killed two men. Ma is instantly concerned. Leaving the others to eat, she goes to the hidden culvert to warn Tom.
She meets Tom who takes her back to the lightless cave he has been hiding in. Explaining what Ruthie has done, she tells him that he'll need to go far away. Tom agrees. Ma hasn't seen Tom since he has been in hiding, and there is no light in the cave, so she touches his face to remember him. He tells her that while he has been alone, he has thought a lot about Jim Casy and what he taught.
Tom is beginning to grasp the preacher's idea that people must stand together. He realizes that each person doesn't have their own soul, but rather is a piece of a great big soul that includes everyone, and "his little piece of a soul wasn't so good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole." He doesn't completely understand this philosophy, "it's jus' stuff [he's] been thinking about." Ma begs him to find the family later on, but Tom tells her that if Casy's theory is true, she'll find him in every human action around her: "Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, [he'll] be there." He wants to continue the work that Casy had begun. When Ma expresses her worry that they will kill him like the preacher, Tom replies, "He didn't duck fast enough."
Returning to the boxcar, the Wainwrights approach Ma and Pa with concerns about Al and their sixteen-year-old daughter, Aggie, spending time together. Ma and Pa agree to speak with Al. Once the Wainwrights leave, Pa confides to Ma that he feels like life is over and done. Ma reassures him that they will keep on going. Aggie and Al return from a walk to announce they want to get married and live on their own. Ma begs them to stay until spring, and the families celebrate.
The next morning, both families leave for the cotton fields before dawn, knowing that this will be the end of the work for the season. When they arrive, people are already in line. With so many people, the fields are picked by 11:00 a.m. As they return home, the rains begin, and Rosasharn takes a chill.
While Tom is in the cave, he experiences a re-birth: The completion of his spiritual conversion from an independent, self-centered individual to someone who must take action to share his morality with all persons. Confined to the cave, Tom is forced into silence and inactivity and is finally able to reflect on the words of Casy. He understands, for the first time, Casy's theory of human love and survival, the concept that all persons share one soul and cannot exist alone. With this understanding comes a new awareness that Tom has a social responsibility to help all those in need. In keeping with his symbolic position of discipleship, it is important to note that only after Casy's death does Tom reach a point in his conversion that he might emerge from hiding to carry Casy's message to the masses.
The symbolism of the cave in which Tom hides is suggestive of the theme of re-birth and recalls his refusal to sleep in the cave with Muley Graves. The cave is symbolic of the womb, implying that Tom is preparing to be spiritually re-born, leaving his current family to embrace all of humankind. Ma must go down a narrow passage to reach him, and darkness is pervasive. Reminiscent of her reaction to Tom's homecoming in the beginning of the novel, Ma feels Tom's face in the dark. Her actions are a form of farewell and signify the break with his immediate family, a break that is necessary for him to begin ministering to the needs of the larger world family.
Cracker Jack trademark for a confection of sweet, glazed popcorn and peanuts.
cynically in a manner that indicates a belief that people are motivated in all their actions only by selfishness.
cord any force acting as a tie or bond.
cat-walk a narrow, elevated walk or platform, as one along the edge of a bridge or over the engine room of a ship.
salts refers here to smelling salts; an aromatic mixture, used as an inhalant in relieving faintness, headaches, and so on.
drawers underpants with either short or long legs.