When a family becomes a victim to severe debt, attitudes change, the family tends to grow apart, and the members must cope. This was common during the Great Depression in the 1930’s after the collapse of the stock market, and a plethora of families flooded to California in search of a promising future. Home to Tom Joad and his family, the deteriorating economy of the Great Depression depicts the changing attitudes of many families and how they adapted to this difficult time period. The work captures how many families like the Joads have to change to accommodate the financial shortage of the 1930s, and how they grow with this struggle.
With that, John Steinbeck constructs The Grapes of Wrath to include a family that is still generous in the midst of many trials and tribulations. The Grapes of Wrath depicts how great struggle is juxtaposed with an immense appetite for wealth, and how this conflict elicits generosity. John Steinbeck grew up around Salinas, California. Even though he was not raised by parents who were poor, he witnessed discrimination upon the many dust bowl migrant workers who came from states that were “less fortunate” like Oklahoma and Texas.
Steinbeck channeled his anger and frustration from observing the heartbreak and struggle during the Great Depression into crafting The Grapes of Wrath. According to Carroll Britch and Cliff Lewis in their article “Growth of the Family in The Grapes of Wrath,” “Although it addresses issues of great sociological change, The Grapes of Wrath is at its core about the family and struggle of its members to assert their separate identities without breaking up the family. 1)” He utilized his aggravation for the people to illustrate the drastic changes that occur in the characters over a period of time, such as the way in which the community is altered when financial hardship is imminent.
But for Tom Joad and his family, staying together as a whole is one aspect that has not yet been lost in the troubling times. Though the Joad family has had a great deal of troubling experiences, in a way this brings them closer holistically. The way that Steinbeck crafts the family to adapt to the varying conditions like when someone dies, or loses work, llustrates how the family becomes more resilient to variety. The Joads and many families like them must leave behind their felt notions of idealism and work towards an “I to We” relationship with the others if they are going to survive during this great struggle, especially with the way that nothing financial wise is stable during the depression. For a large percent of the population, the scarcity of funds leads to chaos within families and friends across America.
The hedonistic views of the public drive people virtually insane, with car salesmen selling run-down vehicles for outrageous prices, to corrupted citizens stealing from stores who are going out of business. With money no longer an abundant commodity, banks and businesses began to shut down and fail, forcing many hard-working Americans to begin a life on the streets, which is not a welcoming new habitat by any stretch. This relates to the novel in that the Joads were forced out of their farm and had no choice but to flee to California in search of work and a brighter future, which appears to be a promising alternative.
Though the trend to fall a victim to the circumstances is growing, there are still some people like Tom Joad and his family who do not seem to fit this statistic yet. When the family reaches the government camp Weedpatch, they to some extent “forget” about the troubles of the economy. Warren French in his article Chapter 6: From Naturalism to the Drama of Consciousness—The Education of the Heart in the Grapes of Wrath, states that, “The self- governing arrangement of the camp also makes the Joads feel like decent people again (4).
This shows how despite the troubling situation, the Joads can still find remote happiness among a time of desperation. There is an apparent change in attitude once the Joads reach the Weedpatch camp. Warren French writes; “The easy atmosphere of the government camp, where—as one man observes—“We’re all a- workin’ together” (448), is in striking contrast to the tense atmosphere at the Hooper Ranch. There the prevailing attitudes are epitomized by a checker’s remark that putting holes in the bottom of buckets “keeps people from stealing them (4).
This suggests that having others to work alongside of eases the tension of being forced to work for almost nothing. The atmosphere seems lighter at the Weedpatch camp due to the migrant workers having others with similar circumstances amongst them. This makes the thought of poverty less menacing because for the migrant workers at the camp, they are beginning to collaborate and become a unit. Another aspect of “working together” is shown after the miscarriage of Rosasharn’s baby. If the baby was not kin to Pa Joad and the family, he may never have been motivated to build a dike so his family can stay dry.
Britch and Lewis quote Steinbeck in their article, “Well, we ain’t doin nothin’…. We can do her if ever’body helps. ” Building the dike with Wainwright and the others replenishes Pa Joad’s spirit, and teaches him that there is way more to be achieved with the “We” attitude. A major turning point in The Grapes of Wrath transpires when Tom murders the man that killed Casy. Though Tom committed a crime, Ma Joad and the family suggest that hiding him from the authorities would be a decent idea. The family pleads for him to stay but quickly realizes he must leave to avoid getting arrested.
This occurrence represents the growth of the family unit, the way they care for one of their own even though he is now a criminal shows the drastic change that has developed over the course of the Great Depression. This also depicts how the situation elicits generosity within the family. It is imperative that Tom leaves the family but aside that, Ma Joad and the others beg for Tom to stay. The difficult situation made them realize how quickly they can lose Tom, and with that the desire to help Tom is now apparent.
The Joads have gone through a metamorphosis with their attitudes and thoughts towards one another. Due to the series of events the Joads have encountered, they have faced many obstacles and this brings them closer over all. A significant incident like this causes the family unit to become more protective over the other members, even after losing Tom, Noah, and Connie. All of the events that transpired along the course of the novel have affected the overall dynamic of the Joad family either positively or negatively, more so positively.
With that, if nothing else, the experience of having to survive amongst one another in a time of great sociological downfall mends the family closer than one would think. The family traveled together, they slept together, and they even worked together. The Joads spent gratuitous amounts time as one unit just in completing those tasks, so even when bonding was not necessarily a part of the agenda, the way in which they became used to each other blossomed rather quickly into a stronger relationship for the family.
Generosity amongst the Joad family was more or less noticeable in the beginning of the novel, and became more of a characteristic of the family as the story progressed. The hardships they faced along the way with searching for work subconsciously drew the family closer. The longer the Joads were among one another, and the more trials and tribulations they faced, generosity among the group developed into the norm. This transformed the Joads from the persona of an average family, into an inseparable unit of people who fought for one another.
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