Grapes of Wrath: Family and Land Connection
Throughout the novel Grapes of Wrath, the author, John Steinbeck does an excellent job of portraying the struggles of life during the dust bowl. There were many reasons for these problems, including the stress of having to move a family from their homeland in search of work to sustain a successful way of life. These problems were very difficult to deal with for any family member, but it was especially serious for the parents and the elders of the family. The children were affected as well, but not as significantly as the parents. Arguably the most significant theme in the Grapes of Wrath, is the extreme struggles a family faced when leaving their family land and migrating to find work.
The struggles of the family are presented in the first chapter of Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck introduces the setting of the novel as taking place in the midwestern United States. The dictation throughout the first few chapters of the novel, uses gloomy phrases, and somber word choices that depict depressing images of the struggles faced during the dust bowl. These images are especially present when Steinbeck writes, “The people came out of their houses and smelled the hot stinging air…. ” This depiction of the polluted air and its effects on the people of this location, foreshadows the problems that are yet to come throughout the rest of the novel. It also connects the relationship between humans and nature. These relationships will be shown in every aspect of the rest of the book. The intense descriptions set the stage for the sad situations that many of the families in the dust bowl.
When the family decides to leave and head for California, it is extremely difficult for all members of the family. Pa Joad was arguably the most effected by the move to California. He had never been anywhere other than his family land, and the connection to the land, was extremely strong. Pa Joad had grown up on this patch of land since he was young. It was very difficult for him to pack up and leave for good. He raised six children on that land and grew up farming the same land. To expect him to leave everything that he has grown-up with and the life he has built, is a lot to ask a person to do. Before the family headed away to California, Pa was in a field staring at the land. This scene was one of the few times we see Pa express extreme emotion. This occurrence proves how important the land can be to someone. These struggles continue to culminate through the first few chapters of the novel. Just after the Joads leave their homeland, Grandpa dies and must be given the proper funeral. This was very difficult for the family, especially Pa, because grandparents are a large part of holding a family together. Later in the novel, when Grandma Joad Dies, some of the other family members had begun to venture off on their own, leaving the safety of a family. These two significant scenes in the novel mirror the idea that grandparents are essentially the glue of the family, and once the grandparents are gone, it is much harder to bring a family together for gatherings.
The connections between the humans and nature are shown evident throughout the novel. One of the key points this occurs in chapter 10 when Steinbeck writes, “And still the family stood about like dream walkers, their eyes focused panoramically, seeing no detail, but the whole dawn, the whole land, the whole texture of the country at once. ” (Page#) At this point in the novel, we have realized that the Joads are a family that is based heavily on details. It is significant that the family is taking the time to look at the full picture, because it shows that they are more relaxed and not in busy as one would assume a large family would have been during this time. They are taking the time to look at and enjoy the natural beauty of the world they are living in, despite the hardships of the dry arid farmland, and the thick polluted air. This shows the power and the shower of family has over all the negative aspects of life. The phrase family in today’s society is taken advantage of and does not have the strong bond that it has in the past. This can be related to the lessened amount of time that families spend together in society today.
There are other instances of how important family is throughout the novel as well. One of the most significant points of this importance take place in the 17th chapter of the novel. At this point in the novel, the Joad family is heading to California along Highway 66. They have become accustomed to the lifestyle of traveling long distances. The family is being forced to camp on the side of the road along with other families fleeting to California too. Steinbeck writes, “Each member of the family grew into his proper place, grew into his duties…. ”(195) This quote shows how reliant the family was on one another. No matter where the family were to stop for the night, each person in the family had a specific job they must complete. These times in history were heavily based on family support. If one member of the family failed to complete their task, the family would not have been a well-oiled machine.
By the end of the novel the family has become spread apart and was not as close knit as it had been in the past. Ma is one of the first to realize this as being true. In chapter 30, Ma tells the stout woman, “Use’ ta be the fambly was fust. It ain’t so now…. ” In this scene, Ma has reached the conclusion that her family had disbanded and was no longer together as they had been in the past. Right before Granma passes away, Noah Joad decides that he is going to leave the family because he did not feel loved by his mother and father. Once Granma passes and Tom awakens from his nap, he breaks the news to his mother that Noah has left the family. This was hard for her to accept because she and her family had always been together, and now that her children did not rely on her as heavily as they had in the past, she felt helpless and wanted to feel that feeling of being relied on again. To fill this void, she attempted to help Rose of Sharon with her child birth. Unfortunately, the child never took their first breath. This upset everyone involved. That baby was going to be a way of starting over for the Joads and to start fresh with their new life in California. This scene is a depressing depiction of how hard the times were during the dust bowl.
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