a wanderer who has no established residence or visible means of support
“They’ll pick you right off. You got no name, no property. They’ll find you in a ditch, with the blood dried on your mouth an’ your nose. Be one little line in the paper—know what it’ll say? ‘Vagrant foun’ dead.’ An’ that’s all. You’ll see a lot of them little lines, ‘Vagrant foun’ dead.’ ”
having a quality that thrusts itself into attention
"Prominent" also means "conspicuous in position or importance"--compare this definition and example sentence to "eminent" (both come from the Latin word "minari" which means "to project"). Here, "prominent" refers to Casy's neck muscles; between two guards, he's more eminent here than when he sat between Pa and Uncle John, because he'd stuck out his neck to save Tom and the family.
Between his guards Casy sat proudly, his head up and the stringy muscles of his neck prominent.
And the hostility changed them, welded them, united them—hostility that made the little towns group and arm as though to repel an invader, squads with pick handles, clerks and storekeepers with shotguns, guarding the world against their own people.
skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
And the girl moved about, poking the fire, shifting the rusty stove lids to make a better draft, opening the oven door; and all the time the baby sucked, and the mother shifted it deftly from arm to arm.
"Agitation" also means "a mental state of extreme emotional disturbance" (which could describe how the migrants feel about the lack of work and food) and "a state of turbulent change or development" (which is what the agitators want to happen), but in the eyes of the citizens, the agitation going on in the camp is so disturbing that they feel justified in burning down the tents.
Last night a band of citizens, infuriated at the agitation going on in a local squatters’ camp, burned the tents to the ground and warned agitators to get out of the county.
This treacherous tattling emphasizes the conflicted relationship between the youngest Joad siblings. It also foreshadows a later scene: here, Ruthie is intentionally acting like a traitor, yet the consequence is Ma's laughter; later, she unintentionally betrays the family's trust in her, and the consequence is that Ma has to let Tom go (which actually helps Tom and the union movement).
“Me an’ Winfiel’,” she said; and then, treacherously, “Winfiel’, he bust a toilet.”
having rugged physical strength; inured to fatigue or hardships
"Stout" also means "fat" (although this adjective is paired with "small" the same woman is later described as "plump"). Another definition of "stout" is "dependable"--this doesn't fit the physical descriptions, but it describes an expectation for the women serving on the Ladies' Committee at the government camp.
There could be no doubt that it was the committee; three ladies, washed, dressed in their best clothes: a lean woman with stringy hair and steel-rimmed glasses, a small stout lady with curly gray hair and a small sweet mouth, and a mammoth lady, big of hock and buttock, big of breast, muscled like a dray-horse, powerful and sure.
"Veneration" means "a feeling of profound respect for someone or something"--especially compared to Al's veneration of Tom for killing a man, Jesse's almost reverential tone for a flushing toilet is comical. Both characters' attitudes reveal their lack of experience and wealth.
Jessie’s voice became almost reverential. “You ever used this here kind?” she asked, and pointed to the toilets.
"Bristle" also means "react in an offended or angry manner" and "rise up as in fear"--the example sentence uses the word as an adjective to physically describe Black Hat's chin, but the verb definitions could describe how Black Hat is reacting to Pa's declaration that he can't feed his family with no money, so he plans to take the job for 20 cents an hour.
Black Hat raised his head, and his bristled chin showed in the light, and his stringy neck where the whiskers lay flat like fur. “Yeah!” he said bitterly. “You’ll do that. An’ I’m a two-bit man. You’ll take my job for twenty cents. An’ then I’ll git hungry an’ I’ll take my job back for fifteen. Yeah! You go right on an’ do her.”