Tom Joad and his family have come to California.
And it came about that owners no longer
worked on their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land,
the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it,
remembered only what they gained and lost by it. And some of the farms
grew so large that one man could not even conceive of them any more,
so large that it took bookkeepers to keep track of interest and gain
and loss ...
And the owners not only did not work the
farms any more, many of them had never seen the farm they owned.
And while the Californians wanted many
things, accumulation, social success, amusements, luxury, and a curious
banking security, the new barbarians wanted only two things - land
and food; and to them the two were one. And whereas the wants of the Californians
were nebulous and undefined, the wants of the Okies were beside the roads,
lying there to be seen and coveted: the good fields with water to be
dug for, the good green fields, earth to crumble experimentally in the
hand, grass to smell, oaten stalks to chew, until the sharp sweetness was
in the throat.
A man might look at a fallow field and
know, and see in his mind that his own bending back and his own straining
arms would bring the cabbages into the light, and the golden eating
corn, the turnips and carrots.
And a homeless hungry man, driving the
roads with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat,
could look at fallow fields which might produce food but not profit,
and that man could know that how a fallow field is a sin and the unused
land a crime against the thin children.
And such a man drove along the roads and
knew temptation to at every field, and knew the lust to take these
fields and make them grow strength for his children and a little comfort
for his wife.
In the evening the men gathered and talked
together. Squatting on their harms they talked of the land they had
There’s thirty thousan’ acres, out west
of here. Layin’ there. Jesus, what I could do with that, with five
acres of that! Why, hell, I’d have everything to eat.
In the camps the words would come whispering.
There’s work at Shafter. And the cars would be loaded in the night,
the highways crowded - a gold-rush for work. At Shafter the people would
pile up, five times too many to do the work. A gold-rush for work.
They stole away in the night, frantic for work. And along the roads
lay the temptations, the fields that could bear food.
That’s owned. That ain’t our’n.
Well, maybe we could get a little piece of her. Maybe -
a little piece. Right down there - a patch. Jimson weed now. Christ,
I could git enough potatoes off’n that little patch to feed my whole
It ain’t our’n. It got to have Jimson weeds.
Now and then a man tried; crept on the
land and cleared a piece, trying like a thief to steal a little richness
from the earth, Secret gardens hidden in the weeds. A package of carrot
seeds and a few turnips. Planted potato skins, crept out in the evening
secretly to hoe in the stolen earth.
Leave the weeds around the edge - then
nobody can see what we’re a-doin’. Leave some weeds, big tall ones,
in the middle. Secret gardening in the evenings, and
water carried in a rusty can.
And then one day a deputy sheriff:
Well, what you think you’re doin’?
I ain’t doin’ no harm.
I had my eyes on you. This ain’t your land.
The land ain’t ploughed., an’ I ain’t hurtin’ it none.
You goddamned squatters. Pretty soon you’d think you owned
it. You’d be sore as hell. Think you owned it. Get off now.
From Pan Books edition 1975, Page