"Winfield was embarrassed. His hand twisted the flushing lever. There was a roar of water. Ruthie leapt into the air and jumped away. She and Winfield stood in the middle of the room and looked at the toilet. The hiss of water continued in it. 'You done it,' Ruthie said. 'You went an' broke it. I seen you.'"Ain't that hilarious? Can't you just picture the two of them in a room full of toilets, and bossy Ruthie giving Winfield a hard time about the water in the toilet, not understanding? And can you imagine what it must be like to encounter a toilet for the first time, not knowing what it is or how it works?
It's a good thing we get a bit of humor, because the rest of this section felt thick with sadness, as the realization that there really is no work settles down upon the Joads:
"Tom looked about at the grimy tens, the junk equipment, at the old cars, the lumpy mattresses out in the sun, at the blackened cans on fire-blackened holes where the people cooked. He asked quietly, 'Ain't there no work?'"And even when they find relief in the government camp, complete with running (hot!) water, there is a sense of doom and gloom that seems to hang over the people there, the idea that their stay is temporary, meant to end, and a constant, nagging knowledge that work is not available no matter where they turn.
When they do settle into the government camp, fortunate enough to have found a spot after weeks on the road and days spent being mocked and taunted by locals, Ma (still my favorite, really) is able to think, really think, about all that has happened:
"Funny, ain't it. All the time we was a-movin' an' shovin,' I never thought none. An' now these here folks been nice to me, been awful nice; an' what's the first thing I do? I go right back over the sad things--that night Grampa died an' we buried him. I was all full up of the road, and bumpin' and movin', an' it wasn't so bad. But now I come out here, an' it's worse now. An' Granma-an' Noah walkin' away like that! ...I didn't give 'em brain room before, but now they're a-flockin' back. An' I oughta be glad 'cause we're in a nice place."
I've been afraid Ma would break, and now I'm even more afraid, that after all of the hardness and meanness she and the Joads have seen in the people around them, she will break under the sadness of the world and of her broken family. But then Pa steps in and they remember together and Ma snaps back to herself and makes "somepin nice" for the family and probably helps Rosasharn stop crying (again) and everything else she does.
Is anyone else struck by the continued importance of the issues that Steinbeck raises, albeit not-so-delicately at times? There are certain parallels that one could draw between the small farmers and the big corporate farmers of the 1930s with the small businesses and the big corporate businesses of 2012. And though we may not like to admit it, the Californians fear of the "damn Okies" doesn't sound so far off from the issues of immigration we face in the United States today.
And so, on to the last quarter of the book. I'm still scared of what is going to happen to the Joads, with the threat of violence and hunger and otherwise painful deaths in the air. Don't worry, I have ice cream and tissues at the ready.
Thoughts from other bookworms:
What Red Read
The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck | Originally published 1939 | 619 pages | Buy from an independent near you