During much of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck focuses on familyas a general concept, and specifically, the Joads. Throughout the story, the Joad family undergoes many changes. They are joined by other travelers, they suffer losses and hardships, and by the end of the story the family has grown and transformed a great deal from what they used to be. The concept of family changes just as much, if not more. The word "family" grows to mean much more than a small group of people related by blood.
When the story begins, we are introduced to the concept of family in a very traditional sense. A family consists of a man, a woman, and children. The father is the leader of the family, followed in rank by his wife and then the children. Soon after this illustration of a family, Steinbeck presents the idea that women can also be the leaders of families. In chapter eight, he refers to Ma as the "citadel of the family," (p.92) meaning that as long as she stays strong, the family will always hold.
As the Joads commence their voyage to California, they begin to see that "family" can encompass more than just one family unit. They meet up with the Wilsons, a family in a similar situation with similar aspirations. Striving for a common causefinding work in the westthey join together and look after each other, caring for each other as a family would. The idea is also put forth that "two are better than one
for if they fall, the one will lif' up his fellow" (p.514). This is to say, families are better off sticking together and supporting each other than trying to make it on their own.
This idea grows to include an even larger group towards the end of the story. It becomes clear that every one of the families fleeing the dusty Midwest in search of work is in the same boat. They all must function as one big family and look after their fellow families as they would their own children. This is epitomized in the final paragraph of the final chapter, when Rose of Sharon is...
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