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
Along with her indomitable strength and knowledge Ma Jaod also has some
weaknesses. Before leaving Callifornia
“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
“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
“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,
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.
“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.” ( Indestructible84)
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.