Chapter 20

Bull-simple: what an unusual word! It could not be found in the Merriam Webster and Oxford dictionaries, or Wikipedia. It is a slang word from the 1930s, and here are some definitions from the University of Southern Queensland, the Swing Gang from Tampa, and a fitness forum websites.

  • ‘Bull’ in the term comes from authority figures, such as policemen or strike breakers, who were employed to literally thump any oppositional voices during this time. Likened to the big, brainless and brawny animal, the bull, this label soon created the term ‘bull-simple’. Bull-simple in fact refers to those people who were bullied into silence and thus sometimes appeared ‘simple’ in their own defenses.
  • Fearful of cops
  • Act simple and think simple.

Tom receives this advice: “Well, when the cops come in,  a’ they come in all a time, that’s how you wanta be. Dumb – don’t know nothin’. Don’ t understand nothin’. That’s how the cops like us. Don’t hit no cops. That’s jus’ suicide. Be bull-simple.”

Later, Tom’s sensitivity makes him say: “When a bunch a folks, nice quiet folks, don’t know nothin’ about nothin’, somepin’s goin’ on.”

In Hooverville, name given to the migrant camps that sprang up around the country, the Joads talk to other people on the road, about what matters the most to them, jobs!  

The ones who have been around longer seem to have encountered only deceit:  the jobs they found were of short duration, with wages below what was advertised and not sufficient to feed them and their kids properly. A young man, Floyd, asks Tom a question: “Know what they was payin’, las’ job I had? Fifteen cents an hour. Ten hours for a dollar an’ a half, an’ ya can’t stay on the place. Got to burn gasoline gettin’ there.”

The men are skeptical when visitors come in the camp and offer them to work in Tulare County. One of the visitors is a contractor, the other one a deputy sheriff.

Deputy Talking

The migrant men want to know what the wages are. Floyd asks the visitors to show their license, to give them an order to go to work, when and where, to tell them how much they will get, and to sign a contract. He warns people in the camp to get numbers in writing.

The contractor and the deputy do not like Floyd’s attitude. I am surprised that they label him as a “goddamn red”, a troublemaker, a communist. What I see is not political. What I see is a man who has been forced on the road by the Great Depression, who found out that jobs were scarce, that wages were bid down, and that the money he made was not sufficient to feed himself and buy gas to wait for and go to the next job. And I see an angry man who does not want to accept the terms that are proffered.

With Floyd asking critical questions and people in the camp being silent and unresponsive to their offer, the two visitors order them out of the camp by the morning. The deputy wants to force Floyd into the car. Things get out of control: a firearm is used, a woman loses her fingers, the deputy falls on the ground, Floyd and Tom flee, and the contractor drives away.

People in the camp now know that they will be forced out. The Joads and others decide to move away during the night and go to Santa Clara Valley; they heard that there is work there. The more destitute will stay behind. 

When Rose of Sharon leaves the camp, Connie is not with her anymore.

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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