One of the greatest historical fiction novels written, The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck, is not only vividly descriptive, but includes incredibly complex themes, allowing the reader to delve into the meaning endlessly. One of these themes discusses the liberation of women for men in the novel, a complex subject that Steinbeck envelopes in his story almost discreetly. The two main women in the novel that liberate them selves from men are Ma Joad and Rose of Sharon, neither liberation is extremely evident but both are complex. Ma Joad is a wonderfully complex character in the Grapes of Wrath. In the very beginning of the novel Steinbeck states that she is a citadel, the center and last defense of the family. She is often known as the person who holds the Joads together through all the trials they face on their journey. Ma joad experienced liberation, in the case that she fills the role of Pa. It was never Ma Joads intention to take Pa Joads place in the family hierarchy, yet this is what happened when Pa could no longer fill his role. This was because Ma Joad cared for the wellness of others, all her goals were based on her family and wanting the best for them. On the other hand Pa Joads goals were very selfish and were very self-centered, based on proving his masculinity to his household and his community. Pa however failed in his attempts, with the car Ma Joad held the tools and worked, and Steinbeck wrote “Pa’s hands hung there limply”. That quote is a very major quote in the switching of Ma and Pa Joads roles, it states that his hands hung limply as if he was incapable and almost of no use. Throughout the novel, Ma is the one that tells the family to find work, she finds solutions, and not only does she feed her family, but she also tried to share what was left with other migrants in search of food. Even at the end of the novel Ma also proves to be able to bear the troubles and worries of her fellow family and migrants, when they come upon the old man in the barn dying, with his frantic son. Initially nobody knows what to do, and everyone is scared. Ma on the other hand tells the boy “Hush” she says “ we’ll figure something out”, after pacifying the boy Ma turns to Pa and Uncle Tom who as Steinbeck writes are “standing helplessly gazing at the sick man”. This quote is huge in the last pages of the novel, it points out the final move to female leaders in the novel. At this point Pa and Uncle John as the men of the house have failed; they are almost of no use to the family almost a burden, as in extra baggage, that the family has to carry, since they provide no help. When Rose of Sharon is initially introduced in the novel introduced, she is a young pregnant girl married to Connie Rivers a man she loves. Steinbeck describes her as a mystical being whose primary concern is the well being of her child, even at even extremely early on in her pregnancy at the start of the novel. Rose of Sharon constantly asks Ma Joad if “it’ll hurt the baby” repeatedly in the novel, and adopts an attitude of superiority over others. She all but refuses to help the family pack the truck for California for fear of disturbing her baby, even though she knows her help is needed. Ma, who tolerates her primarily because of her condition, patiently absorbs her selfish antics and complaints. During the journey Rose of Sharon and Connie pass the time by dreaming of the life they will lead when they reach California. Connie says he will open a repair shop and buy a white house with a fence and an icebox and a car and a crib, all before the baby is born; a dream which most would say is hopelessly idealistic and detached from reality. Though their intentions are for their baby so that it may have a perfect life from the very moment it is born. Whenver ashe would be faced with difficulies, she would comfort herself by remembering her dreams and almost seemingly trying to lift the burden of reality. She does so when the sheriff threatens the roadside families to leave or be jailed. She tells Ma of Connie’s plans for California, which have nothing to do with the situation at that moment. This escape only proves to ultimately hurt Rose of Sharon and Connie; they learn that illusions don’t support a life when survival is the priority. Her idealistic dreams of a perfect life began to collapse when her husband Connie deserted her and the soon to be born baby. This meant she would no longer be able to find her comfort in her and Connies shared dreams, and would be forced to face reality. Yet, instead of concentrating on the Joad family crises, she once again goes back to worrying about her baby. She also goes back to her stubborn traits, when she refuses to dance at the Weedpatch Dance because it may be bad for her baby. She is almost a superficial person now, rather than illusory, which Rose of Sharon does to escape reality. When Rose of Sharon’s baby is finally born, she has high expectations thinking that she is going to be rewarded for every moment and thought devoted to the life of her child. Instead, the baby is born stillborn, dead at birth. Which can only mean that all of her energy was useless, she was overcome by the reality. She tried so hard to avoid by plunging her actions into the care of her child. This is where Rose of Sharon has her own epiphany; she finally realizes that she has to come to terms with, reality so that life may continue. So, when the Joad family comes across the dying man and his son, Rose of Sharon sees it as an chance to redeem herself. The old man, to her, is almost like her child, and a chance to make up for when she had failed to accept reality. Her actions show this realization when she gives the dying man her milk, giving him a chance to live. She has finally matured and taken on responsibility, and realizes that life is the main important thing everyone should focus on, not their own happiness and wellness.
1) “John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Rose of Sharon’s Transformation.”123helpme.com. 26 Mar. 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. <http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=67863>.
2) Heavilin, Barbara A. "Add a Shared Note." The Age of the Clans: The Highlands from Somerled to the Clearances by Robert Dodgshon. Greenwood Press, 2000. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o>.
3) Durst Johnson, Claudia. "Understanding the Grapes of Wrath." Questia. Green Press, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o>.