It's an incredible scene. The rain is pounding and the family camp has been flooded out; in the midst of this, Rose of Sharon has given birth to a stillborn child. Fearing pneumonia, Ma Joad pushes the family to higher ground and they happen upon an open barn. Here, Ma gets Rose of Sharon out of her wet clothes and sees to another child who has taken shelter there with his starving father. With the flood looming, she clears out the family and directs Rose of Sharon to nurse the dying stranger. It's with this bleak image that the novel ends.
My experience of reading Steinbeck's novel was also conditioned by another current reading project: I've been slowly working through the first volume of Marx's Capital with some friends here in Edmonton. The chapter we've discussed most recently is "The Working Day," which features a host of memorable quotes, metaphors, and allusions. Along with his famous comparison of capital to "dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour," I was struck by Marx's explication of so-called equal rights, which articulates much of what's going on in The Grapes of Wrath:
We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.Here's Springsteen performing the Grapes of Wrath-inspired title track from his 1995 album.