The Grapes of Wrath Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 30

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An overflowing creek threatens the boxcar camp. As Rose of Sharon begins to go into labor, Pa tries to recruit other men to help him build a bank to prevent flooding. Some men refuse-"It ain't our baby," says one-but others grab a shovel and start working. Ma and Mrs. Wainwright tend to Rose while the men work feverishly to dig the ditch. Despite their efforts, however, the water breaks through and floods the camp. It seeps into the cars, rendering them useless. Rose delivers a stillborn baby. Pa asks Ma, "Well-couldn' we -of did nothin'?" Ma answers, "They was on'y one thing to do-ever-an' we done it." Her answer encompasses the whole novel: at every turn, the Joads have done what they had to do to survive, to be, as she said to Tom, "the people [who] go on."
When morning dawns, Uncle John sets an empty apple box bearing Rose's dead child in a fast-moving stream, sending it off with the charge, "Go down an' tell 'em. Go down in the street an' rot an' tell 'em that way. That's the way you can talk . . . . Maybe they'll know then."
The family eats a hurried breakfast as the water continues to rise. They have no money left. Rose is anxious and uncomfortable because her breasts are ready to nurse her infant. Ma decides that, whether the men come or not, she, Rose, and the children must move on. Al announces that he will stay with Aggie and the Wainwrights. The others wade through the water to the highway in search of a dry place. They finally find a barn, where two people are already staying: a young boy and his father. The father has given all of his food to his son, and is now starving to death. Ma exchanges a knowing look with Rose, who says, "Yes." Happily, Ma tells her, "I knowed you would, I knowed!" She leads everyone but the sick man and Rose out of the barn. And in the book's final image of a "fambly" that transcends divisions-the one, holy family of humanity of which Jim Casy spoke-Rose begins to breastfeed the sick and frightened man, a mysterious smile on her lips.
The scene where Rose of Sharon's dead baby is set adrift in the river, is an ironic allusion to Moses' birth in the book of Exodus, where Moses' mother sends her child-the future liberator of the Israelite slaves, whom God will charge to speak the truth of freedom to the oppressive Pharaoh-down the Nile River (see Exodus 2:1-10). Likewise, Rose of Sharon's baby floats away bearing its silent message of the truth of judgment.
The final scene shows that the character of Rose of Sharon has transformed from being self centered to being giving. She too has started to think of others as she willingly breast feeds the starving man. This scene allows the novel to end in a hopeful note in that united the migrants will be able to survive the hardships and tribulations.


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