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The Four Winds

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.

Quick(-ish) Recap

(The two-sentence version of this: During the Dust Bowl in the Texas Panhandle, Elsa Wolcott is a woman who dreams of going to college, gets pregnant instead, has two kids, becomes a farmer, has her husband leave her, moves to California with her kids, becomes a migrant worker, falls in love, helps to organize a strike, gets shot by the farm boss and dies. Her daughter, Loreda, returns home to Texas then at 18 prepares to return to California to go to college.)

The Four Winds is divided up into four sections, each detailing events from (roughly) that year.

In 1921, Elsa Wolcott is a 25-year-old unmarried woman who is not particularly pretty and too tall for most men. She feels restless and destined for spinsterhood. Instead, she meets and sleeps with Rafe Martinelli. When Elsa gets pregnant, her father disowns her, and Rafe's parents (Tony and Rose) tell him to marry Elsa. Rafe dreams of leaving for the big city, but does his duty. Over time, Elsa finds her place on the Martinelli farm, and the baby (name Loreda) is born.

By 1934, Loreda is 12 and has a difficult relationship with her mother. Elsa and Rafe now also have a son, Anthony ("Ant"), 7. The past few years have been difficult, with the Great Depression, an on-going drought and frequent dust storms ravaging the lands. Rafe is unhappy, drinks heavily and dreams of going West to pursue new opportunities. Loreda longs to leave as well, and she prefers her father's dreams to her mother's dreary, joyless work ethic. One day, Rafe abandons them with only a note. As the drought continues, their animals die and supplies run out. After a week-long dust storm, Ant is severely ill due to inhalation of dust. The doctor says he must leave to survive, so Elsa packs up the household into the car. Before she departs, Rose and Tony announce they won't be going. Instead, they are staying to take a governmental payment to grow grass as part of a soil conservation plan to help save the farmland of the Great Plains. Uncertain and scared, Elsa reluctantly leaves with just Art and Loreda.

In 1935, the three of them embark on the ride towards California. They are disheveled and unkept by the time they arrive, and people are rude to them. To save money, spend a night in a tent camp with other migrants, only to learn that wages for migrant work are so low that they'll have to stay there indefinitely. They befriend Jean (who is pregnant) and Jeb Dewey, who show them the ropes. Elsa ends up doing seasonal field work for larger farms. Loreda, too, skips school during cotton-picking season to help, though Elsa's ardent wish is for Loreda to go to college. When money runs low in the winter, Elsa starts standing in the food lines for assistance.

In 1936, Jean goes into labor, but the hospital refuses to admit migrants like her, and the baby is stillborn. The death of the baby is the last straw for Loreda, who hates their life there. She runs away and hitches a ride with Jack Dewey, who works for a Communist organization, Workers United. They stop off at a meeting, and Loreda is inspired by the cause. With a new sense of direction, Loreda no longer wants to run away and goes home. When a flash flood hits the migrant camp, everyone there, including the Martinellis, lose everything.

Jack helps the Martinellis move into a cabin on camp for a large farming operation, Welty Farms, while also encouraging Elsa to unionize its workers. Despite Loreda's interest in the cause, Elsa firmly resists. Elsa soon realizes that Welty's camp is designed to keep their workers poor and indebted to them, but she doesn't want to risk her job. It's not until she sees Jean die from typhoid and Welty casually decrease the wages for its workers that Elsa realizes she must join in the fight. She and Jack fall in love as they help to plan a strike. When the strike finally happens, Elsa propels it forwards when Jack is incapacitated, but Elsa is shot. Before Elsa dies, she asks Jack to take her kids home to Texas.

In the Epilogue, in 1940, Loreda has been living in Texas. She misses her mother. The book ends with her about to return to California to become the first Martinelli to go to college.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary & Analysis


Prologue

A woman narrates that she moved west in search of the American Dream. But the land turned against them, resulting in poverty and hardship. She thinks about the women of the Great Plains had do to survive…

In the prologue, the narrator makes a pointed statement about how saying are always about men or “a man”. She then shifts the focus to women, indicating that this is going to be a female driven story.

1921

Chapter 1

It’s 1921 in the Texas Panhandle town of Dalhart, and Elsinore “Elsa” Wolcott is turning 25 tomorrow. Economically in these parts, times are good. Farmers like her father have profited from high demand for wheat and corn and good crops. The Wolcotts are third-generation Texans, and Elsa’s grandfather, Walter, was a Texas Ranger.

With most women being married by the age of 20, Elsa worries about the prospect of spinsterhood. Elsa is too thin, too tall (six feet!), and less attractive than her beautiful younger sisters, Charlotte and Suzanna (both married). She fears that her future will consist of living with her parents and their household maid, Maria, eventually caring for her parents when Maria retires. In contrasts with her dreams of college, writing, finding a husband and having children.

Elsa calmly tell her parents she wants to attend college and become a writer, but her father (Eugene Wolcott) says that she is being “hysterical”, and Elsa drops the issue. Elsa had rheumatic fever at 14, which cut off her studies. Instead, she has spent her time in her room reading books.

Elsa is reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton when she gets up the nerve to talk to her father about potentially attending college. In the The Age of Innocence many of the characters sacrifice their personal freedoms and what their heart desires to their detriment, and they end up full of regrets. The characters do what they are expected to do, even if outcome of doing so is obviously worse (such as staying in a marriage with a cheating husband, since divorce is improper).

Afterwards, Elsa picks up a book she treasures, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It is an erotic novel, indicating that Elsa has a freer, wilder side to her that yearns for fulfillment.

Elsa heads to the library, and is stopped by Mr. Hurst, a proprietor who owns a number of businesses in town. He mentions a new shipment of red silk that her sisters might be interested in, but Elsa decides to purchase it for herself. And when she gets home, Elsa tells herself to “be brave” before chopping off her hair into a chin-length bob. When her mother (Minerva Wolcott) sees it, she is horrified.

Elsa feels trapped by the way people see her and think about her. From her mother treating her like an invalid to Mr. Hurst never imagining that Elsa would want to wear red silk, it’s clear everyone sees her as sickly, weak and spinster-y. But Elsa imagines for herself a life of passionate sex, adventures, love, children and just more.

It’s possible that the absence of her grandfather (who she says was always on her side) has made her more frustrated and restless than before, since she no longer has anyone advocating for her.

Her decision to cut her hair is likely because it serves as a loud signal to everyone else that they should look at her differently than before. The fact that it’s a bob (a more modern haircut) seems to imply she is planning on taking her life in a more modern direction. She gives a overly-simplistic justification of it to her mom (that she “just wanted to be pretty”) likely because she has probably tried to explain her desires and dreams to her mother before and knows it’s futile, or perhaps she hasn’t fully figured out how to explain herself yet. Instead, her actions speak for themselves.

Chapter 2

After the haircut, Elsa stays in her room. She gets inspired to sew her red fabric into a daringly modern dress. With her dress and makeup on, she walks down the stairs with confidence. Even when her father sees her and calls it a “harlot dress”, she insists on wearing it out. Unfortunately, Frank at the town speakeasy says her father wouldn’t approve of him letting her in.

Instead, Elsa runs into a tall stranger, Raffaello “Rafe” Martinelli, who she flirts boldly with. He tells her that he’s from Lonesome Tree, thirty miles away. He takes her for a ride on his truck, and they drive it out to a barn at an abandoned homestead. In the back bay of the truck, they lay on quilts, watch the stars and talk about wanting more in life. Soon, they are kissing and have sex — but then he abruptly says he should get her home.

Elsa misunderstands when Rafe says he wants to “love” her that he means he wants to have sex. You could argue that he was being misleading, but given that he’d just asked her if she wanted to do more than kissing, it seems like a genuine miscommunication.

When she gets home, her father is furious. He smacks her across the jaw, leaving a bruise. The next day, her mother offers little sympathy. Instead, she reminds Elsa that she’s unmarriageable, she tells her she should accept her lot in life, and then her mother takes the red dress from her.

Her mother asks if she’s “still a good girl” (if she’s still a virgin) and Elsa lies. Still, even though no one else knows that Elsa had sex, even just the rumors of it from last night are sufficient to tarnish her reputation.

Chapter 3

On the 4th of July, Elsa’s bruise has faded, but she feels even more restless than before. Elsa attends a party at Dalhart Grange Hall with her parents. She is upset to see that her sisters are wearing a scarf and a blouse made from the fabric that was once her red silk dress. At the party, she also runs into Rafe, who looks uncomfortable because he is with his wife, Gia Composto. Still, they make plans to meet up that night at midnight.

In her restlessness, Elsa imagines herself as The Lady of Shalott, referencing the eponymous character in the lyric poem of the same name by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It’s about a woman locked up in a tower near Camelot. When she attends the party, Elsa is upset at the sight of her sister’s red silk clothing. Elsa tried to do something for herself and to build up her own confidence, only to have her mother take it away was bad enough. But having it used to make clothing to adorn to her sisters is a punch to the gut for Elsa.

Hannah also throws in various historical details. At the party there are many immigrants from Russia, Germany, Italy, and Ireland, and the men talk about wanting electricity. Meanwhile, there is plenty of alcohol despite Prohibition rules — out in the rural areas there is less governmental control and less tolerance for governmental control.

Elsa meets Rafe at the same barn, and they have sex again. Then, Rafe tells her he is leaving for college in August. He’s not enthused about it, wanting to learn by doing instead.

Rafe thinks college is silly and is being forced to go. He takes his opportunity for granted, unlike Elsa who as a woman would desperately like the opportunity to go, but is unable to do so.

Chapter 4

In mid-August, Elsa discovers she is pregnant. Her mother is the one to suggest it when she sees Elsa throwing up constantly. When her father finds out, Elsa is forced to disclose who “ruined” her. Then, her parents tell her to pack a bag, and they drive to the Martinelli farm. There, her father Eugene tells Tony Martinelli (Rafe’s father) that Elsa is expecting. Then, he disowns Elsa and leaves.

Rose Martinelli (Rafe’s mother) protests at first, but Tony puts a stop to it and quickly decides that Rafe needs to marry Elsa. Rose demands that Elsa convert to Catholicism. Meanwhile, Elsa asks for reassurance Rose will love her baby, so the child can grow up feeling loved. Rose agrees.

Elsa is genuinely surprised to be pregnant since she doesn’t know how any of it works, and the books of fiction she reads don’t really cover the technical details of what happens after sex or the conditions under which someone gets pregnant.

Elsa feels guilty about ruining Rafe’s life by getting pregnant. It shows how she has internalized the sexism that she is surrounded with. Even though Rafe and Elsa are both responsible for their action, Elsa feels it is her “fault”.

Hannah provides a glimpse into two different socioeconomic tiers within the community. Eugene Wolcotts is one of the wealthier men in town. They are a third-generation, established family. Meanwhile, the Martinellis are immigrants. They purchase supplies from Eugene on credit. The Martinellis have had to sacrifice in hopes of giving Rafe a better life than their own.

Chapter 5

Rose helps Elsa move in, and afterwards Rafe promises Elsa that he will try to be a good husband. The next morning, Elsa wakes at nine to find everyone else has long started their workday. They are surrounded by wheat farms, and Tony explains that he also makes wine, a skill passed down from his family in Sicily. Meanwhile, Rose intends to teach Elsa to cook.

As Elsa gets settled, she’s surprised to find the Martinellis have no indoor plumbing. Moreover, Tony explains how he and his wife started out with only 17 dollars, and now they lead what he considers to be a good life. Rafe previously told Elsa about his parents and the difficulties they faced in trying to build a life there, but now Elsa is getting a taste of the less charmed life as well.

When the book starts, it’s easy to see Elsa as an entirely pitiable character, unloved and doomed to spinsterhood. But Hannah structures this narrative in a way that forces the reader to think about the things that Elsa likely took for granted as well. Though Elsa’s previous grievances were legitimate, it seems she probably also failed to understand the difficulties of lives outside her own.

Rafe and Elsa are married unceremoniously with a quick exchange of rings. Elsa converts faithfully as promised, though she struggles with learning to cook. Still, she does not give up and eventually improves. Even more hopefully, she beings to feel like she belongs, and she starts to imagine a future where her children are happy there. Still, Rafe continues to imagine a life in a big city elsewhere, and he often drinks.

Winter comes and goes. In February, Elsa has the baby, a little girl they name Loreda (after her grandfather Walter who was born in Loredo). Rose shows Elsa a American coin with two wheat stalks on it which Tony found in Italy before they left. They consider it a lucky coin that pointed them toward their destiny.

While Elsa manages to find her footing on the farm, Rafe continues to be unable to accept the idea of staying there. He still longs for big-city life and his unhappiness over it likely drives his drinking.

1934

Chapter 6

Elsa rides her horse Milo into town. Her dress is made from old flour sacks, as is customary now. Times are tough, with the past few years seeing The Great Depression and severe drought. Around town, many businesses are shut down, and needy children line up for food at the church. Though Prohibition is now repealed, not many have money for drink.

Elsa goes to the Silo Saloon to find Rafe slumped over, drunk. Elsa has since had two more children, but one died three years ago. Elsa notes that the death of their son, Lorenzo, hadn’t “broken” him the way that poverty and famine did. Meanwhile, Loreda (12) and their other son, Anthony (“Ant” who is 7), need new shoes while Rafe drinks away money that they don’t have.

Loreda at 12 is moody and angry. She thinks of her mother as being joyless and constantly harping about saving money. Loreda imagines herself leaving here for something bigger, like going off to Hollywood with her father. Loreda’s teacher, Nicole Buslik, is the only teacher the town has. Loreda’s closest friend is Stella Devereaux.

The family (Elsa, Rafe, Loreda, Ant) head to the auction house. They run into another farmer, Will Bunting, who says the bank has foreclosed on his land, and he’s leaving for California in hopes of finding work and new opportunities. Afterwards, Loreda dreams about the life they could have there, but Rafe tells her that his parents and Elsa would never want to leave. He reassures her that it will rain.

Elsa notes that “it was only possible to live without love when you’d never known it.” She is hurt by Loreda withdrawing and rejecting her because she recalls what it felt like to have that closeness. Similarly, she saw how Rafe tried to be happy at the beginning of their marriage, but has watched as he gave up in the face of poverty. When talking to Loreda, Rafe says that he “made a bad choice” which limited his options. Despite whatever efforts he has made, he ultimately regrets how his life turned out.

Meanwhile, Loreda’s perspective is shaped by the time she’s living in. For most of her recently life she’s only known a life of drought and poverty. And she sees her mother as being without joy and stressed, because times are difficult. She imagines that her father agrees with her on everything, even when he doesn’t say anything, failing to realize his thoughts are probably more complex and involved than hers.

Chapter 7

While Elsa accepted the Martinelli’s love for this land as her own, she sees that Loreda has adopted her father’s outlook. Rafe had filled Loreda with ideas of faraway places and talked to about complaints about farm life, and now Loreda is unhappy there.

As she does her chores, Elsa sees that a dust storm is approaching. Elsa and Rafe hurry inside as the walls shake and winds howl. Meanwhile, Loreda and Ant are hiding in the schoolhouse. Afterwards, Mrs. Buslik leads them out. Loreda and Ant head toward town along with Stella and her younger sister, Sophia. Elsa rides up to take them home.

Back on the farm, as Loreda does chores, the ground hear her suddenly splits open from the dryness and heat, revealing a chasm.

By switching back and forth from Elsa and Loreda’s perspective, Hannah shows juxtaposes how vastly differently the two perceive and view things. Elsa was once a dreamer and felt trapped like Loreda is now, but she was taught the life is difficult and became a survivor. Meanwhile, Loreda now sees Elsa as the person who is trying to trap her into a life that she doesn’t want, and she resent her mother and her mother’s love for her because of it. She views her mother’s love as being suffocating. She is quick to blame her mother for everything, including her father’s unhappiness and her own.

Chapter 8

As Elsa sadly looks out at all the dead vegetation around her, Elsa recalls how she’d once brought Loreda as an infant to her parents’ house in hopes that they would accept her back, but they had shut the door in her face. She never saw them again, but their absence and knowing they didn’t love her still bothers her.

As Elsa thinks about how Loreda also doesn’t love her, Rose comes and comforts her. Rose had been a loving maternal figure to Elsa, and the two women share a strong bond. Later, Elsa sees Rafe crying over how difficult life has become.

When Rafe asks Elsa how she is able to stay strong, Rafe is not comforted by her answer, saying it’s because of the children. Elsa is someone who is driven by her survival instincts, so the idea that someone needs her and doing something because she must works for her. Rafe instead is someone driven by dreams and hope, he needs the prospect of something more aspirational to keep moving forward.

Through September, the heat refuses to let up, with temperatures reaching up to 115, and the plants continue to die. Elsa worries about how they will feed the livestock. She tends a flower in a small garden near the kitchen window. Meanwhile, Rafe continues to withdraw from Elsa.

This small flower is a symbol of Elsa’s hope. She chooses to water and care for it when all else is falling apart because it gives her comfort, and it shows her determination to create beauty and hope even in a dire situation.

The Pioneer Days celebration comes up, a holiday which used to be exuberant and patriotic. Now, it’s more pared down and everyone looks ratty, but they still show up nonetheless. At the party, Stella tells Loreda that the town bank is closing, and that her family is going to leaving, too.

Chapter 9

Loreda is devastated by Stella’s news. Loreda goes outside to find Rafe crying. They talk about how everyone is leaving, and how they could die out here. They also receive gas masks donated by the Red Cross to help them cope with the dust storms. The next morning, Elsa finds Rafe at the family cemetery in front of the headstone of their son. Rafe tells Elsa that he wants to leave to try to find a job in California. Elsa says that they have no money for gas or even shoes if they wanted to walk, and then there was his parents. Rage suggests leaving his parents behind.

Afterwards, Elsa considers telling Rafe that she would think about it if he really felt he had to go. At night, she finds him to tell him that she would consider leaving, but Rafe agrees that it’s impracticable for them all to go. They make love. The next morning, Rafe is gone.

Rafe wants to leave with their family, but he knows his parents would never leave. Meanwhile, Elsa’s conversation makes him realize that the kids could never come with him. They don’t have proper shoes and they’d likely need to walk a thousand miles. His last day, he comes to see that the best option might be for him to leave by himself.

Chapter 10

Elsa hurries to the train station, where the attendant Mr. McElvaine, reluctantly admits that her husband didn’t have money for a ticket. Instead, Rafe jumped a train, leaving only a note. The note is short and asks Elsa not to look for him. When she goes home, she first tells Rose and Tony what happened, and they are aghast. Then, she tells the kids. Loreda screams and cries, while Ant is sad and cries.

Elsa debates what to say to the kids. She thinks about telling them that their father went to find a job for money, but knows she’ll have no explanation when there’s no money coming in. She also makes the calculation that it’ll be less heartbreaking for them to understand what has happened now. The alternative is to give them false hope that he’ll be coming back, only to realize painfully and slowly over time that he won’t be returning. Elsa ends up deciding to tell them the truth.

Afterwards, Elsa tries to comfort Loreda, but she refuses to be consoled. She blames her mother for driving him away. Loreda runs off. Then, a dust storm descends. Elsa runs inside and looks for the kids, but Ant says Loreda has run away. Sure enough, Loreda has left a note saying she’s gone to look for Rafe. Elsa goes out, determined to find Loreda. She goes to the barn to get the truck, which results in their horse Bruno running into the storm. In town, Elsa sees that Loreda is at the train station, and they take shelter in the depot.

That night, Elsa takes out the one article of clothing Rafe left behind, a blue chambray shirt. She decides to wear it as a scarf. Outside, she sees that Bruno is dead. As she lays in bed, she thinks about what her parents said about no man being able to love her, and she considers that they were right.

Chapter 11

The next day, Elsa stays asleep, too sad to get out of bed. Loreda has never seen her mother like this. Loreda understands on some level that it’s not entirely her mother’s fault that their father left, but thinking that he could leave her (Loreda) makes Loreda feel hopeless. When Loreda sees Elsa in bed, Rose tries to explain that Elsa’s heart is broken, and that Rafe was foolish and has filled Loreda’s head with “fluff”. Rose advises Loreda to someday find a man who is reliable, but Loreda doesn’t want to hear any of it.

After Loreda leaves, Rose comforts Elsa. Rosa admits that she spoiled Rafe, since she was so grateful for a child to survive after having experienced the death of three daughters before him. She says that she loved her son too much, just as Elsa’s parents loved her too little.

As Rosa is comforting Elsa, she mentions that she believes that Loreda needs to be taught to settle down, and that Ant will someday go to college. When Elsa protests saying she wants Loreda to go to college, Rosa expresses skepticism because Loreda is a girl. It goes to show that even someone as loving and well-intentioned as Rosa can have old-fashioned thoughts and biases based on their gender. Just because Rosa is right and wise about some things doesn’t mean that she is right about everything. I

Instead, Rosa is a very human character, with both great insight at times and flawed thinking at others. I think it’s tempting for authors to write characters (especially older/wise ones) who are right about everything, but much more realistic for them to be depicted with human flaws.

Chapter 12

In November, snow falls and people feel hopeful of rain to come. But it is cold still, and the dying trees mean that the town’s supply of firewood is running low. Elsa chops up what once was the pig pen to be used as firewood.

As the difficult times progress, we see as the family’s supplies dwindle away, such as with Elsa foregoing candlelight at night.. In previous chapters, the last pig was slaughtered, then here we see as the pig pen gets used for firewood.

At church, another family inquires about whether Rafe has found a job, since Tony has not told them the shameful truth that Rafe abandoned them. Letter have been received all over of news of family members that have moved West and found jobs, with encouragement to join them. Despite knowing the logistical reasons why the plan was bad, a part of Elsa wishes she would’ve just agreed to go to California, and she misses Rafe.

In late December, there’s a town meeting planned regarding possible governmental assistance. The family heads to town for the meeting, and they stop at the store as well. Mr. Pavlov, who runs the town store, was once the wealthiest man around, but he is struggling now as well. Still, he gives the Martinellis some free licorice for the kids as a kindness.

The meeting takes place in the old schoolhouse. A man introduces himself as Hugh Bennett, a representative of the U.S. Conservation Corps. He informs the farmers that in order to survive, they will need to alter their farming methods to employ soil conservation. He says that the grass they’ve dug up was holding the topsoil in place. When the drought came, the earth became dry and the topsoil blew away. When he tells them that they’ve contributed to the current situation, farmers start walking out.

Then Bennett continues, saying that the farmers will be paid to not plant crops next year and to instead plant grass. They’ll also be paid sixteen dollars a head for livestock. At the idea that farmers will not farm crops, Tony is angry. The Martinellis walk out and others follow.

While the drought is the main cause of the dust bowl in the 1930’s, the erosion of topsoil also greatly contributes to the swirling dust storms that marked that time period, and it stripped valuable soil from the lands which made the land less productive as well.

Chapter 13

That night, Loreda acknowledges that she’s been a “crumb” (a jerk) to Elsa since Rafe left. Loreda offers to get a job to help out, but Elsa says that there’s no jobs. Then, Loreda suggests they move West in the spring, but again Elsa says no. She says they have food and shelter here, but half the country is unemployed so there’s no guarantee there will have work if they leave. Seeing her upset, Elsa decides to give Loreda Rafe’s shirt (the one she’s been using as a scarf).

The first week of March, winter is finally over and Loreda turns thirteen. As they enjoy the spring weather, the rain finally falls. The family is overjoyed. That night as they celebrate and rain and Loreda’s birthday, Rose passes around the family’s lucky penny for people to make wishes on, as is their custom (on New Years, birthdays and when planting season comes). But Loreda refuses it, saying she no longer believes in it because it failed to keep their family together. But Rose reassures Loreda that she will believe again eventually.

The next day, Elsa wakes up with renewed hope as Tony looks at the new growth sprouting from the field.

Chapter 14

In mid-March, there are eight straight days of 100 degree heat, and the family’s spirits begin to dampen. Elsa does the laundry even though it is blindingly hot and it seems pointless when everything gets dusty anyway. As they haul water from the well, they regret not laying pipe before. Loreda reluctantly helps to make soap, which they plan to sell.

Elsa knows there’s a futility to doing the laundry. However, Elsa knows she needs to set a good example for her kids (to not give up) and doesn’t want the neighbors to stop by and potentially see her unwashed kids. Ultimately, Elsa knows that if she stops trying and admits defeat that it sends the message to her children that even she thinks there’s no hope which would be bad for their morale.

They hear a noise in the barn, which turn out to be Milo (the horse), who is dying. Tony explains that the horse must be shot, since it is in pain, but he’s too sad as he thinks about how the farm has failed them. Loreda thinks about how much she loved Milo, gets the gun and shoots him. Afterwards, they see another dust storm headed their way.

Loreda sees how much pain Milo is in and even though she loves him, she knows that he’s better off dead. When she sees her grandfather hesitating, she decides that she needs to be the one to do it and takes the gun. This episode hints that Loreda has a strength to her that we haven’t fully explored yet.

The dust storms rage for the entire week. Even with the gas mask, Ant is weak, has a bad cough and is soon unable to get out of bed. Elsa tries to milk the cow to give him some milk, but even the milk is muddy. Elsa thinks to herself that the cows will likely die after inhaling so much dirt. Tony consoles her by saying that at least the government will give them some money for it.

Chapter 15

The dust storm settles, but Ant now has a fever. His eyes are red from the dust and his cough is still bad. Seeing how poorly he’s doing, she wants to take him to Doc Rheinhart, but realizes that they have no horse. Instead, she puts him in a wheelbarrow, so she can push him the two miles into town. Elsa determinedly pushes the wheelbarrow for a mile until the rest of the family catches up. They take over, and together they travel into town.

There is a makeshift hospital set up, and Ant is given a bed that opened up that morning (meaning that someone else had died). The doctor quickly diagnoses him with a fever and severe silicosis, a lung disease where inhalation of the silica (present in the prairie dust) causes the air sacs in lungs to be torn (referred to as “dust pneumonia”). Elsa wants to stay, but there is no space for visitors. The doctor recommends leaving Ant at the hospital for at least a week or two, but he also says that if they really want to save Ant, they need to leave Texas for somewhere with clearer air.

Afterwards, it’s decided it’s time to leave.

Chapter 16

Back at home, Loreda is upset because she doesn’t know what’s going on. She assumes that worst that Ant is dying, but the adults don’t want to tell her. Finally, Elsa sits down with Loreda, and tells her that they are leaving Texas as soon as Ant is better.

When Loreda assumes the worst about Ant’s diagnosis, Hannah illustrates how kids will imagine awful things if they know something is being kept from them or if they sense that something is wrong, but they don’t know what the situation is.

The family makes preparations to leave, such as harvesting some viable plants along with their roots and preparing whatever foods they can. As they work, Mr. Gerald, their banker, comes to deliver the unfortunate news that the bank is preparing to foreclose on 160 acres of their land unless they’re able to make some sort of payment to hold them off. Mr. Gerald then informs him that the land will be auctioned off on April 16.

Ten days after dropping him off, Ant is feeling better. Elsa tears up in relief. She tells Ant that they’ll take him home in a few days and then off to California. Back at home, Elsa digs up the small flower she’d once planted and places it in the earth near Lorenzo’s headstone. The flower slumps over immediately.

When Elsa digs up her flower and it slumps over in the dirt, it’s a symbol of how Elsa’s hopes for this land and this place have officially been dismantled.

Then, a huge flock of birds fly by, heralding a thick dust storm that ravages the land. Elsa rushes inside with the rest of the family. She puts the gas mask on Loreda and they hide in the darkness, under a sheet thrown over a table. When she awakes, she struggles to open the front door, only to discover that outside everything is covered in black dirt.

With that, Elsa decides they are leaving immediately while they’re all still alive. They pack as much as they can into the car. Elsa thinks back to leaving her parents house and how she was only able to pack a few belongings before starting off anew. Right before they depart, Tony and Rose announce that they are not leaving. They know Elsa needs to leave, but they plan to stay and take the government’s offer to plant grass on the land as part of the collective effort required to save the Great Plains. They entrust her with their lucky penny.

Elsa is scared to embark on this trip alone, but Rose assures her that she is all the children need. At the hospital, the doctor warns that Art will need a year to fully recover and may have asthma in the future. As art comes toward them, Elsa sees that Art has no shoes (they broke), and then they head off into an uncertain future.

In Chapter 18, we learn that the huge dust storm was on April 14, 1935, an event dubbed “Black Sunday” by the newspapers.

Tony and Rose pretend that they are going with them until the last minute, because they know that Elsa needs to go but will be reluctant to leave them behind. By giving her the penny, they are endowing her with their hopes and dreams as she takes their grandchildren to build a new life.

1935

Chapter 17

On the road, Elsa is filled with doubt about her ability to handle the challenges ahead. She wonders how she will find a job, and how she will watch her children even if she has a job. Loreda notes that Tony and Rose gave them most of the government money they received. Loreda also explains that Grandpa Tony has been teaching her things like how to hunt or how to put water in the radiator. She suspects they knew all along that they weren’t going to be coming along. They also gave Loreda a compass. Ant likens them to an Explorer’s Club.

They drive through Dalhart, and Elsa sees a foreclosure notice on the door of the Wolcott home and the family business is boarded up. Loreda keeps an eye out for men that could be Rafe. When Elsa stops for gas, the attendant warns her of a “bad element” out there so she shouldn’t keep her cash in her handbag. Elsa realizes that she needs to be more careful.

When they stop for the night, a man tries to siphon their gas and demands Elsa’s money when she spots him. Loreda scares him off with the shotgun. It occurs to Elsa that her children would lose their innocence in the course of their trip and that there was a lot she hadn’t anticipated.

They continue to drive west, but soon they reach a point where the Mojave Desert lays ahead. She worries of how the car engine will fare in those conditions and what they will do if it fails.

Loreda seems to adopt a more cooperative and helpful attitude now, perhaps as a result of some combination of necessity, hope in going west or finding her father, seeing her mother’s distress, maturity or the realization that her mom and brother are all she has left.

At the same time, Loreda also has an unflinching boldness that continues to grow, as seen in her ability to scare off the attacker. It could be argued that Loreda is able to be bold because her mother has protected her, whereas Elsa has gone through more disappointments that make her more uncertain and doubtful of what’s to come.

Chapter 18

Elsa stops at a gas station in time to see a hunger riot nearby as a mob attacks a grocery store belonging to the local mayor. As they head into the desert, they see a sign indicating to travelers that they need to bring water with them from that point on.

Driving through the desert in the night to avoid the heat, the engine still overheats. As instructed, she waits for it to cool down before adding water. Thankfully, it starts back up. She keeps driving up a mountain until she’s too tired to continue. When she wakes, Loreda points to the sight of green farmlands with excitement.

She continues driving through the winding mountain roads of the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by lush greenery. Elsa stops the car and asks the kids where they should go. She stops at a gas station, but the man is rude to her because of her disheveled appearance after days of driving and camping out.

Chapter 19

After Elsa’s unpleasant encounter with a man who assumes they are impoverished, she considers the discriminatory attitudes her own father had held against people of different backgrounds. She resolves to raise her kids better.

Elsa spots a nice house and goes to inquire about it. However, when she offers to pay part now and part when she gets a job, the woman suggests that she leave. The woman also says they don’t rent to “Okies”, and instead, the woman directs her to a campground.

The campground is filled with tents and looks like a shantytown, but Elsa doesn’t want to drive around and waste gas when they only have $27 left. Instead, she opts to stay the night there. They talk to a couple, Jeb Dewey and his Jean, who have been living there for nine months with their kids. Jeb explains that his family gets work picking cotton on the farms, but there’s no work during the winter. They also explain the farms here owned by large businesses, as opposed to being small farmers. His kids pick cotton, too, instead of going to school since otherwise they would starve.

Jeb recommends going to the relief office for help, but Elsa bristles at the suggestion. The next day, Elsa goes to inquire at a house and is offered some work scrubbing floors, along with a firm warning not to speak unless spoken to.

In California, Elsa is treated poorly because she is assumed to be poor and because she’s assumed to an Okie or something like them. Okies referred to people from Oklahoma or similar places (like Texas), but were thought of as economic refugees that were typically impoverished.

Chapter 20

Loreda wakes up to see that her mother is gone. Instead, Jean tells her that Elsa went looking for work. When Loreda talks about going to Hollywood, Jean tells Loreda, in a nice way, that she will need to grow out of her childish thoughts. Instead, she instructs Loreda to go boil some water and do the laundry to help her mother out. When Ant wakes, Loreda tells him to help out, too.

Meanwhile, Elsa spends the day cleaning and doing household chores. After 10 hours of work, the woman is rude to her and then only gives her 40 cents. Elsa is taken aback by the low pay, vowing to search for better paying work tomorrow. When she goes home and tells Loreda that they need to stay at the camp for now, Loreda is horrified and angry, but it’s the only option. That night, Elsa pens a cheery letter to Tony and Rose to let them know they made it.

The next day, Elsa gets the kids ready for school a mile away. Jean lends her a pair of shoes for Ant, and she pushes Elsa yet again to register for relief just in case. At the school, the other kids are dressed in clean, new clothes. The school administration and other kids all notice how unkept the Martinelli kids are, but they are taken into class nonetheless.

At the state relief office, Elsa is informed that she will be eligible for relief after establishing residency, so in one year’s time (the clock starts the day she signs up). In the meantime, the attendant points her to the food line for support until then.

Elsa is initially too proud to want relief, but Jean and Jeb push her to sign up because she needs to wait a year from the date she signs up on. So, chances are by the time she really needs it, it’ll come too late if she doesn’t sign up now. Even after she does sign up, she declines to stand in the food line, since she still can’t fathom the thought of herself like one of those people.

Similarly both Elsa and Loreda are disgusted by the camp and the people in it until they realize they will have to be exactly one of those people. They are all having to re-adjust their idea of who they are and also how they think of other people who have fallen on hard times. Others treat them like criminals, but they know that they are hard-working people in unfortunate circumstances.

Chapter 21

When Elsa goes to pick up her kids from school, she finds out that Ant got in a fight when he was punched by another kid and Loreda was laughed at by the other kids for her lunch food. Back at the camp, Jean introduces Elsa to the other women around there, Midge from Kansas and Nadine from South Carolina.

After a few weeks, Elsa settled into a routine of getting up to find work, oftentimes not successfully. Elsa knows her savings are slowly being depleted. They get a letter back from Tony and Rose who report that the government will additionally be paying them to contour the land and sending them love. One day, Elsa gets dressed up to attend a PTA meeting at the kids’ school. Though the other women try to tell her to leave Elsa stays and then takes all their snacks as they leave. She gives the cookies and sandwiches to her kids as a treat.

That night, Jean admits to Elsa that she’s pregnant again and worried about how she’s going to feed yet another child.

Chapter 22

In June, Elsa is able to get consistent work on the cotton field for 50 cents a day, but there’s rumors that they’ll be decreasing the pay for cotton farmers soon. There’s so many migrants coming to California that people are desperate for work. When school lets out, Loreda tells her mother that she’s going to have to work as well so they can save money that they’ll need when there’s no work during the winter.

In July, the Martinellis head to Northern California with other migrant workers to pick fruit when there is little work in the cotton fields. When fruit season is over, they head elsewhere to find other work.

Hannah describes how the newspapers talk about the concerns of the non-migrant citizens who worry about the growing migrant population. Even as the migrants toil away providing cheap labor for the farms and other people, the citizens think that the migrants are a burden on the government services, and they associate them with crime and disease. While people want their labor, no one wants to have to see the people who do the work.

In September, they return to their original camp to find work in the cotton fields. They see that the camp has now grown considerably. Elsa now has only $20 ($7 less than when they’d arrived), after these many months of labor and despite the need to save up for winter. Elsa and Loreda decide that they will both work instead of having Loreda go to school. However, Loreda will resume her education after the cotton season is over and Ant will continue his studies.

There’s a steep learning curve, but eventually they are able to get to the point where they pick enough cotton to be earning around $4 a day between the two of them. With cotton season over, Loreda will soon be returning to school, which she is reluctant to do. Trying to re-inspire her kids, Elsa takes her them into town.

Elsa brings the kids into a salon, Betty Ane’s Beauty Shop, explaining to the proprietor that she doesn’t want Loreda to be teased in school. When Betty Ane goes to fetch her husband Ned, Elsa thinks Betty Ane is trying to kick them out, but it turns out that Ned is giving them some old clothes for the winter since they are former migrants as well. He also offers to let them take a hot shower there.

Chapter 23

After they all have haircuts and are fixed up, Loreda feels transformed. She’s reminded of the girl she used to be. Loreda walks into a library and asks for a library card. Even without the card yet, the woman still lets her check out a book for now.

By late December, Elsa realizes they will not have enough money to get through the rest of the winter. With relief only coming in April, she needs start standing in the food line for help until then. She waits for hours in the cold to pick up a small box of food, though she’ll have to wait another two weeks to get another. She sees a man there encouraging the unionization of workers, but the man is beaten and dragged away by cops.

On Christmas morning, Elsa reveals that she has a letter from Rosa and Tony and small gifts for the kids. She also shows Loreda that she went back to town and picked up her library card. She know the the card means that “there was still a future. A world beyond this struggle.” The kids also give Elsa a journal for her Christmas gift.

1936

Chapter 24

In late January, Jean shouts for help when she realizes the baby is coming. Jean senses that something is wrong, so Elsa drives her to the hospital. The hospital refuses to admit her, saying that migrants don’t pay taxes, and she gives her a pair of gloves instead. Elsa deliver’s Jeans baby, but it is stillborn. Jean names it Clea, after her mother.

Seeing the baby’s death, Loreda is upset. In anger, she blames her mother for all that has happened to them. Later, when Elsa goes to talk to Loreda, she realizes that Loreda has run away, leaving just a note.

Despite all the progress in Loreda and Elsa’s relationship, Loreda reverts to her old habit of blaming her mother for everything and drawing on the anger that has been simmering inside her for so long. From the rudeness of other people to the teasing by the other students, Loreda directs all that anger towards her mother because her mother is the only person that there for her to take it out on.

Loreda is consumed by her fury over their situation, but doesn’t have an outlet to cope with it. Before she could at least expend some of it by picking cotton and do something productive with her frustrations, but now that it is winter and she feels powerless, she does the only thing that she can which is to run away.

Loreda keeps walking until a truck driver stops for her. She claims to be 13, but the truck driver knows she’s lying. Still, he offers to drop her off at a bus stop in Bakersville.

Chapter 25

The truck driver introduces himself as Jack Valen. He tells Loreda he needs to make a stop before he drops her off. He drives out to a barn. Loreda is worried at first, but it turns out to be a group of men and women called the Workers Alliance, interested in advocating on behalf of workers. Loreda is gripped by the feeling that she wants to be a part of their fight, and as she talks to Jack, she realizes that she doesn’t want to leave her family. Then, the police come, arrest Jack and break up the meeting.

What Loreda wanted was not to leave her family, but to feel like she had something to fight for, a goal to be going toward and something she could do to better her life. Once she knows what she needs to do, she no longer has any desire to leave her family.

Elsa goes to the police station to report Loreda missing. The police know they are unlikely to find her and instead they reassure Elsa that her child will likely return home. At the station, she recognizes the man she saw get beat up when she was waiting in the food line (Jack Valen). Jack notices Elsa’s resemblance to the girl he picked up earlier today and offers Elsa a ride home, but Elsa thinks he looks ragged and untrustworthy. She declines and leaves.

Chapter 26

Loreda returns home and apologizes to her mom. She excitedly tells her about the meeting she attended, but Elsa recoils at the idea of aligning with communists and antagonizing their employers. She says that they don’t have the “luxury of waging a philosophical war”.

The next few days are filled with rain as the ditch nearby fills up. Then one night as they are sleeping, a flash flood hits. They watch in horror as the flowing waters dismantle their tent and their stove is washed away. Elsa knows they will never see the box with their money again. As the people flee, Elsa turns back to get their truck. Thankfully it works, and she drives it out of the mud and into safety. She sees Loreda in a truck ahead and follows.

Elsa is led into Welty and in front of a boarded-up hotel. The man driving the truck is Jack Valen, who Elsa remembers. He leads them into the hotel (which is purposely made to look abandoned) where he says they may stay a couple nights. While Loreda and Ant clean up in the shower, Elsa goes with Jack to provide assistance to the other flooded-out migrants. They work all through the night, getting everyone to safety. The next morning, tired and seeing the devastation, Elsa collapses. She awakes in Jack’s truck, and Jack helps her into the hotel room. She falls asleep freshly washed and sleeping on clean sheets.

Chapter 27

The next morning, Loreda and Ant go outside to see a number of aid organization lined up with supplies and food, as well as a table with a woman from Workers United. Loreda marches up to the woman, Natalia, and announces her intention to be a part of their fight. The woman tells her to take some shoes and clothes, and she instructs Loreda to help pour coffee if she wants to help. After a while, Loreda is see how few people have taken the flyers they left on the table and how no one but herself signed up to help the cause.

Loreda thinks about how she wants to be more of a fighter like Jack and less of a “faithless” dreamer like her father. Natalia tells her about how Jack had previously helped to advocate for Mexican immigrants and ended up in prison for a year. She says that they want to help the migrants to organize, but they’ve been met with a lot of resistance.

Once Loreda meets Jack, her mindset begins to shift quickly. She stops idolizing father and over-romanticizing the things he said to her. Loreda is someone who wanted something to believe in, and when all she had was her father and his pipe dreams, then that’s what she believed in. As soon as she has something better and more realistic that she can put her goals and effort into, it is easy for her to let go of those dreams.

In the morning, Elsa worries about all their belongings, food and saving being gone, but the sight of her kids volunteering and pouring coffee for others fills her with hope. Jack takes Elsa to a Welty camp where there is a cabin that vacated yesterday. The cabins have mattresses, concrete floors and electricity for 6 dollars a month, and the workers there get first dibs on the jobs at Welty farm. The man at the guardhouse advises that most of the people live on relief until cotton season.

She talks to Jack and thanks him for his help, but she maintains her stance against communism. Jack tells Elsa about his mother, who died in a factory fire because they boarded up the doors to prevent workers from taking cigarette breaks. He explains that it was what drove him to do the work he does. He continues to try to convince Elsa to join the cause, but she remains against it.

Chapter 28

The next day, Loreda and Ant are sent to the school nearby on the Welty farm grounds, where other migrant kids also attend. At school, Loreda sits next to a boy named Bobby Rand, who shares his textbook with her. But when Loreda asks a question about unionism, she gets reprimanded by the teacher, who says that it is un-American. Afterwards, Loreda heads to the library. The librarian offers her a book on worker’s rights called Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed, but she cautions Loreda about being careful about what she says to other people about this topic.

In the Welty camp, Elsa enjoys the convenience of having shopping and laundry nearby, but she notes that the stores prices are quite high. The store allows her to buy things on credit, but Elsa has to temper her impulses, knowing easy it could be to overspend on credit. Afterwards, Elsa drives back to the original camp to find the Dewey family, all living out of the back of a truck. She gives Jean some food, not knowing what else to do. When she leaves, she’s upset and runs into Jack who tries unsuccessfully to comfort her.

By March, Loreda is now 14, and Elsa has wracked up a considerable amount of debt. Each day, she goes looking for work still, waiting for her relief to kick in at the end of April. When the day finally comes, she qualifies for 13.50 per month. There, she also learns that the federal government has cut funding for the food line. On the way back, with her relief money, Elsa gives two dollars to Jean.

Elsa comes up with a plan to pay down her debt, but the store refuses her money, since they only allow you to buy on credit. Elsa realizes that Welty purposely keeps them in debt in hopes that they’ll overspend, need credit, borrow money, get charged interest and stay broke. Elsa also finds out that if she leaves the cabin to pick peaches, then she loses the cabin and the cotton job.

Chapter 29

In June, Elsa goes off to work on the fields doing cotton tending. Loreda wants to go, but Elsa tells her she can only help with the cotton picking later in the year. Instead, Loreda heads off to school. As she nears, she hears the teacher talk about the girls learning to make cosmetics for the day, and Loreda changes her mind and goes to the library instead.

On the way, Loreda sees a sign for a town meeting at the theater, and she ends up going in. At the podium, there’s a man talking about the migrant problem in the state. They talk about how they all just live off welfare and have no reason to pick cotton. Loreda recognizes Mr. Welty who advocates for ending relief during cotton picking season. Then, Jack stands up and yells at the men, resulting in the police dragging him out and leaving him on the street, bleeding. Afterwards, they end up at a diner. Jack tells Loreda about how cotton prices are down and cotton growers are worried about their workforce potentially unionizing.

Meanwhile, Elsa finishes her workday and exchanges her chit (payment for her work) for credit (there’s a 10% fee for doing so and no other place to cash it in). She walks into their cabin to find Jack and Loreda there. Jack offers to take them out for the night. He takes them to a small, hustling Mexican restaurant, picks up some food, and then they head for a public park that was built by the WPA.

As the kids swim in the lake, Jack leads Elsa down as well, even though she doesn’t know how to swim. Instead he shows her how to float in the water. Afterwards, before Jack leaves, he lets Elsa know that he’ll be out of town for a while but that he wants to get to know her better. Elsa tells him that he “scares” her, referring to her feelings for him, but Jack thinks that she’s talking about the prospect of unionizing which he acknowledges is dangerous.

Chapter 30

One day during the summer, Elsa and Jean get together, they talk about Jack, and Jean encourages Elsa to change the way she thinks of herself. Elsa thinks she’s unattractive and bad with men, but Jean says she’s let the way her parents and Rafe treated her dictate how she sees herself.

In September, it’s time to pick cotton. Elsa, Loreda and Ant all get ready to pick cotton. The boss requires that they purchase Welty bags even though they have their own. A line of workers are outside hoping for work, and Mr. Welty shows up to explain that he’s cutting wages by 10% that year. Loreda is furious, but Elsa shushes her.

After the day’s work is over, Loreda runs off in frustration. She overhears two men arguing about the prospect of organizing. One of them, Ike, supports the efforts. Loreda interrupts their conversation and tells them that she thinks they should strike. As she talks, she’s interrupted by Elsa, she takes her back to their cabin. Still, as the cotton picking continues, there’s a tension among the workforce regarding the decreased wages. Then, flyers for a meeting for the Worker’s Alliance are distributed. Loreda argues with her mother that they need to join the fight, but Elsa doesn’t want to risk their jobs and their cabin.

Chapter 31

Loreda thinks to herself that she understands her mother’s fears, but she also thinks that Elsa’s “passion” has gone out while hers has not. Loreda attends the Worker’s Alliance meeting and hears as Jack calls for a strike among the workers. As she chants along with the crowd, Elsa shows up and chastises her, angry that Loreda would put them at risk in this way. Afterwards, Elsa sends Loreda away and talks to Jack. They get into an argument, with Elsa saying that Loreda is too young to understand what she’s doing. She warns Jack to stay away from Loreda.

The next day, Loreda spots Ike near the water pump, and he whispers to her that there’ll be a meeting in the laundry room at night. As she’s walking, Mr. Welty stops her and asks if she’s heard any whispers about organizing, but she lies and says no. Later, on the fields, fences have been put up, a tower has been erected and men with guns roam the field. Mr. Welty announces that because of the union organizers he’s had to implement more security precautions, which cost money. As a result, he’s lowering their wages by another 10%.

That night, Loreda is determined to go to the meeting that night. Elsa tries to stop her, and when she can’t, she decides to attend the meeting with Loreda. They listen in on the meeting, but then the sound of truck engines and a spray of headlights cause the men to disperse. Men with weapons emerge from the trucks, looking for people. Far away, they hear someone scream, but even that sound does not deter Loreda.

Chapter 32

One week as Elsa heads down to the relief office, Loreda asks to drive in order to practice. As they wait in line, Mr. Welty shows up at the office. When Elsa gets to the front of the line, she learns that because she’s capable of picking cotton (as demonstrated by her address at Welty Farms), she’s not eligible for relief during cotton picking season.

As they leave the office, they run into a frantic-looking Jeb who reports that Jean is sick. She has a fever, and she thinks it’s typhoid. Elsa sends Loreda with the truck down to the Welty store to buy aspirin and a thermometer. Loreda returns to say that the shop is closed, likely because Welty wants to remind everyone of how dependent they are on their employers.

Elsa, instead goes to the hospital to beg for aspirin. When the woman refuses, Elsa grabs a bat and smashes the door and the desk until the woman gives her the aspirin in fear. Afterwards, the woman tells the security man to stop her, but he is also a former migrant and so he gives Elsa a five-dollar bill instead. Sadly, Jean dies. Elsa is heartbroken. With that, Elsa asks Loreda where to find the unionizers. Elsa, Loreda and Ant visit a barn that serves as an office for the Communists. Elsa talks to Jack and explains what happened. She tells him she’s ready to help organize the workers.

Loreda believes that her mother has no fight or fire, but Elsa has shown a number of times she is a fighter when she believes it is necessary. Despite it being completely out of character for her, she is willing to cause trouble and threaten someone if it means helping someone she loves. Once she realizes that unionizing is a do-or-die prospect for her and her family, it’s clear to Elsa what needs to be done.

Chapter 33

In the camp, people are paranoid about who may or may not be reporting back to Welty. Nonetheless, Loreda does her part to spread the word about a meeting on Friday.

They receive a letter from Rose and Tony giving word that the farm is seeing some progress with some abatement of the dust storms and the government delivering water to the farms. When Loreda asks if they’ll see them again, Elsa finally admits to Loreda that the house they’d seen in Dalhart was her former home, but her family rejected her. Instead, the farm with Tony and Rose was always her real home, and therefore yes, they would be back some day. Loreda tells Elsa that her family missed out by not seeing how “special” Elsa is.

At the meeting on Friday, hundreds of workers gather. Jack encourages Elsa to speak to the crowd, but Elsa pushes Jack to speak. He starts by telling them the history of how Mexican immigrants in California who had formerly done the picking were treated. When the Great Depression hit, the difficult times led to heightened fear of outsiders and the immigrants were deported. It was fortunate, then, for the agricultural industry that the dust bowl came along to provide new workers for the industry.

Jack then explains that they need to organize to ensure that they will be paid a living wage and to be treated fairly, unlike the workers who came before them. He encourages them to rise up lest they be used and mistreated. Then, just as Jack announces the sixth as the day of the strike on fields across the valley, the sound of police sirens ring out. Panic gripped the crowd and then Elsa felt something hit her head.

When Elsa comes to, she has a bloody welt on her head, and she is in an unfamiliar room with Jack next to her. Jack reassures her that Natalia is with the children, watching them back at the cabin. Jack explains that the barn was burned down and some arrests were made. Then, Jack admits his feelings for Elsa, which Elsa returns. After she takes a shower, the two of them have sex. Afterwards, Jack and Elsa return to the cabin to greet the anxiously awaiting kids.

Chapter 34

On the sixth, news of the strike had spread, but no one knew for sure what would happen. That day, Welty shows up with many armed men to announce that he’s dropping the pay another 10%. Jack goes up to challenge him and say that the workers will strike. Elsa knows that everyone has received instructions to go into the fields and sit, but no one moves so she takes her kids and they go first. Elsa is unsure if anyone will join then, but when Ike begins to move, the workers start moving and they all sit as instructed.

That day, no cotton is picked and Loreda is delighted. Still, Elsa knows there’s a longer road ahead since most of the people have no savings and the Welty store and credit will not be available to any of them. That night, Elsa receives a notice to vacate her cabin within three days. However, Jack shows up that night and tells her she needs to get out even before then. He’s heard rumors of “trouble” incoming, and he takes them to the boarded-up hotel instead.

Chapter 35

The next morning, Jack wakes Elsa with a kiss. That morning she writes in her journal that she is in love. She writes that the “four winds” have brought people from all over to this place to make a stand in the name of what is right. Elsa knows this will be a big, potentially dangerous day. Outside a small group has gathered and as they head toward the fields they chant “Fair pay!” as others join them as they walk and the various groups merge into a crowd of hundreds. Together, they block the road.

Near the entrance of Welty Farms stands Mr. Welty. Jack reminds the workers to stay peaceful, but not to let the strikebreakers in, who arrive in trucks behind them. The police show up. Then, a group of masked vigilantes with weapons approach Jack. They being beating him up, as he yells for Elsa. She knows she needs to take control. She starts telling the crowd of her story and why she is fighting for a fair wage (this is the passage from the prologue of the book). When she’s done, she starts up the chant of “No more!” and the crowd responds.

When a tear-gas bomb is thrown, the workers head for the fields to sit peacefully, but then Elsa is shot. Welty instructs the police to arrest Elsa, but the police are hesitant. Then, Loreda grabs a gun and points it squarely at Welty. The workers then filter into the fields, and the strike continues that day.

Immediately after, Jack takes Elsa to the hospital and demands a doctor. Elsa eventually awakes, but she knows she is dying. She says goodbye to her kids, and asks Jack to “take them home”. Before she dies, Elsa give Loreda the pouch containing the family’s lucky penny.

Chapter 36

Later, Loreda notes that Elsa wanted them to go home to Texas, but there is an issue of money in order to make their way home. Determined, Loreda grabs a shotgun, dons boys’ clothing, and drives the truck to the Welty store. It’s empty. She demands money from the attendant, threatening to shoot him dead if he follows her. Afterwards, she discards the clothes, leaving her dress on instead. As men start searching for the culprit, they barely notice Loreda walking by in her dress. In total, she has 122 dollars.

That night as they camp out after their drive through the desert, Loreda thinks about the things she never said to her mother. Jack encourages her close her eyes and think her thoughts and talk to her mother that way.

Epilogue (1940)

In 1940, Loreda is home on her grandparents’ farm. The land is contoured, soil conservation plans are in place and the rain has returned. Loreda is 18 now. Loreda gets a package from Jack, who is now fighting a different war, against fascism this time. Inside, there is a book with a passage about Elsa and a grainy photo of her leading the workers in the strike.

Loreda is about to head off to college in California. She recalls her mother’s final words, “be brave”. She says goodbye to her mother’s headstone as she leaves to become the first Martinelli to go to college.

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