Exploring the Familiar Desires in The Grapes of Wrath

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the novel we see that Ma is controlling individual desires of her children and her husband that might be destructible for the entire family. She also tries to protect her family from outside forces which might destroy them. Benson suggests that “Steinbeck’s mother is also reflected his fiction…many of her best qualities—her cheerful strength, her sociability, her capable management- are given to Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.” (True Adventures 15) Along with her indomitable strength and knowledge Ma Jaod also has some weaknesses.

Before leaving Callifornia she admits, “I’m scared of stuff so nice”. When Noah deserts, she admits, “Family’s fallin’ apart…I just can’t think. They’s too much.” She is a real woman not the stereotypical Earth Mother who never fails. She is a strong woman who overcomes her fear just to intact her family. Although Ma always supports Pa’s leadership to keep her family together but she takes a position of active leader as crisis threatens to tear the family apart. Ma Joad breaks the patriarchal rules and emerges as a leader and plays more than a housewife’s role assigned to the women of her time. It is in the Weedpatch camp that her true position of leader is evident. “We got to do sompin”, she said… you are scairt to talk it out. Ever’ night you jus’ eat an then you get wanderin’ away. Can’t bear to talk it out. Well’ you go to…Now don’t none of youget uo till we figger somepin out… You set here, an get busy”. With Pa Joad’s loss of control over his family during the journey, Ma is capable of breaking with the patriarchal ideology to assume a more influential position in the family. She uses her strength not to be the leader of the family but to support and protect her family when Pa loses his power. She does not have any desire take the leadership, but remains confident that Pa will regain his vigor and will take the leadership back. This is evident when she says, “Don’ you mind. May be–well, may be next year we can get a place”. Ma knows the differences between their roles. She is the center of the family while Pa is its leader. McKay Notes. “If the wisdom that Steinbeck attributes to women directs Ma to step outside her traditional rolein times of crisis…her actions immediately after also make it that she is just as willing to retreat to wifehood and motherhood”.

Two other very important women characters in The Grapes of Wrath are Granma Joad and Rose of Sharon. Although Granma Joad is more of a caricature than a real person, she also portrays the same strengths as her daughter-in-law when, after Grampa’s death, she, “moved with dignity and held her head high. She walked for the family and held her head straight for the family….Granma sat proudly, coldly….until no one looked at her, and then she lay down and covered her face with her arm.” Rose of Sharon appears weak at first but she eventually becomes a strong woman as she performs the role of an ultimate nurture in the closing scene. Gladstein explains, “By giving her breast to the old man, Rose of Sharon takes her place with Ma as earth goddess. Her youth and fertility combine with her selfless act to signify continuity and hope.”

The transformation of Rose of Sharon from youth to maturity is remarkable. Although Ma Joad is the most important woman but she does not stand alone, Granma and Rose of Sharon take their places beside her. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is a novel of social and inner change. The subject of the novel is the destruction of a self-sufficient and proud family which shows the reality of California. The unemployment, poverty, homelessness, floods and their separation from the land which physically and emotionally destroy the Joad family show the real problems of American society during the Great Depression. Through his consistent portrayal of family Steinbeck shows that the American family and American society as a whole are struggling to survive. The weak and ineffective patriarch obsessed with the American dream is the basic cause of destruction of family. Recognition that Steinbeck destroys all his families and then provides a metamorphosis help to clarify the somewhat difficult ending is his works. He close each with a dramatic scene which is not so much a conclusion as it is a seminal event which suggests his hope for the future. Benson explains how these conclusions were typical of Steinbeck’s way of thinking. Although the literal interpretation of the family is important, Steinbeck’s primary message comes at a higher level. As a microcosm of the entire American social structure, the family represents factions within society and the issues of the family represent those larger issues facing America. Hence, the destruction of the family represents.


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