The Grapes of Wrath
By looking at the Joad family, it can be seen how the hard times off the Great Depression can still help bring a family together. At the beginning of the story the family is in pieces, all members want different things, some want to leave, while others want to stay. However, through the hardships of travel, their loss of friends and the obstacles they overcome, they learn to live together. The beginning of the journey is hard for the Joads, many do not want to leave the land; which they lived and worked on for years. Grandpa Joad even says, “This here’s my country. I b’long here. An’ I don't give a goddamn if they’s oranges an' grapes crowdin’ a fella outa bed even. I ain’t a-goin’. This country ain’t no good, but it’s my country. No, you all go ahead. I’ll jus’ stay right here where I b’long.”(Steinbeck 111). When this is said, one can see that Grandpa Joad has lived on this farm his whole life, and by leaving now he is leaving his whole life and past behind. This is a heartbreaking moment for members of the Joad family, but they realise they must move on; and Ma Joad says, “All we got is the family unbroken.” (Steinbeck 169). Ma Joad realises that even though they lost everything, the one thing they still had was each other. Family was the only thing the Joad’s had, and they realised that they needed to stay together to survive. Then the narrator later states, “The family became a unit.”(Steinbeck 138), they started traveling, working and functioning like one united group with the same goal. Although, at first, the Great Depression seems to tear the family apart, they soon realise that family is the only thing they have left; and the only thing that matters.
This sense of unity can also been seen by looking at how the community of the migrants evolves and changes as the story progresses. The community of migrants first starts out as a bunch of random people roaming from Oklahoma to California, but throughout the story they transform into a whole, united community that work and live together. ““In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.” (Steinbeck 193). It is seen that through the depression the migrants have learned to live together as one family. They realised that they are all in the same place, and they must get through their problems together. The loss of one home became a loss of everyone, and traveling to California became a common goal they all shared together. This mindset and lifestyle can be seen in the migrant camps in California. All the migrants live together; governing themselves and helping each other find food and jobs. This is seen when Tom Joad says,” You mean to say the fellas that runs the camp is jus' fellas—campin' here?” (Steinbeck 287). Tom is amazed that a group of migrants can live together and govern themselves. This shows just how close they are, they know how important community is, and work hard to keep each other happy and healthy. Writer Carroll Britch talks about this in her essay, “Growth of the Family in The Grapes of Wrath”, she writes, “Steinbeck writes in his “Journal,” is that the Joads and those like them must abandon their felt notions of individualism and move toward an “I to We” relationship with the other migrants if they are to survive the economic and spiritual challenge of their displacement.”(Britch 1) The migrants do realize this, and change their lives to fit each other in. By analyzing how the migrant community changes, from a random assortment of people to a close tight-knit community, it can be seen that even the toughest of times can bring people together.
When looking at the actions and growth of certain characters in the book, one can see how the migrants can overcome their hardships and come together. All the characters in the book work to help each other, because they know it is all they have. An example of this is when Rose of Sharon breast feeds an old starving man, to save his life, “Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. ‘You got to,’ she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. ‘There!’ she said. ‘There’” (Steinbeck 455). This act of kindness is a huge change in Rose of Sharon as she is usually seen as a young, childish girl, and to breast feed an old man for no purpose of her own, just to save his life. She is seen to have matured, and now realises that life is the only thing that matters in this situation. One writer said, “The once-controversial gesture in which Rose of Sharon offers her breast to feed a starving stranger becomes an icon for the new community.” (Ditsky 1). Rose of Sharon doing this represents how the whole community had changed, and feels about each other, they are willing to sacrifice and do whatever is necessary to keep the community together. Personal happiness means nothing if there is no one to share it with. Another character who changes throughout the book is Tom Joad. At the beginning of the book he is described as, “Is a loner who begins the novel looking out only for number one, as his solitary initial appearance and his aggressive manipulation of the witless truck driver indicate.” (Owens 1). When we first see Tom he has just been released from prison, and has no care in the world. He just wants to find his family and move on, but later on in the story Tom becomes the center of the family and migrants. He works hard to keep all the migrants together, and make sure the police do not hurt or abuse them. He even sacrifices his own freedom by starting a fight with the cops, to protect the migrant community. He says, “Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there.” (Steinbeck 419). This quote shows that Tom has evolved into a guy who puts others first, he realizes that to be successful the migrants must stick together, and he will do anything possible so this happens. Even saying, “I now know a fella ain’t no good alone.”(Steinbeck 418). This is one of the last things Tom says, before he must leave, to avoid getting arrested, and it leaves the reader with a last thought of Tom being a changed man who puts the needs others, before himself. By looking at characters, such as Tom and Rose one can see how the hard times of the depression help change them, into becoming more thoughtful, selfless people.
In The Grapes of Wrath, one can see how when everything is taken from humanity, one thing people will always have is family. This is seen by looking at the Joad family, the community of migrants and the change in the thoughts and actions of characters throughout the story. People must realise that there is always someone in the same situation as them, and they are never alone. So much can be accomplished as a group then by a single person, people provide support for each other, and help each other. This is a huge theme in The Grapes of Wrath, that community and family is one thing humans will always have. Even through the darkest of times, there is someone who has experienced the same things, and knows what it feels like. Reading The Grapes of Wrath can show one the importance of family and community. If people are going to survive they must learn to live and care for one another, because “A fella ain’t no good alone.”(Steinbeck 418).
Britch, Carroll, and Cliff Lewis. "Growth of the Family in The Grapes of Wrath." Critical Essays on Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ed. John Ditsky. G. K. Hall, 1989. 97-108. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 124. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Dec. 2012
Owens, Louis. "The Culpable Joads: Desentimentalizing The Grapes of Wrath." Critical Essays on Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ed. John Ditsky. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1989. 108-116. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 135. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.
Ditsky, John. "The Grapes of Wrath: A Reconsideration." Southern Humanities Review 13.3 (Summer 1979): 215-220. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 135. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Group, 2002. Print.