The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck introduces a family rooted in the leadership of men. The journey of hardship they endure, however, disintegrates this patriarchal control, leaving the women, Ma specifically, to take charge. As Pa falls behind, guilt-ridden for his lack of ability to provide for his family, Ma is left to make the decisions. It is she who takes the lives of her family into her own hands, and through a passionate bond, all humanity, as well. Steinbeck illustrates how Ma Joad is the strong force within the family who realizes the true value and meaning of life.
At the novel’s commencement, it is the men of the family who control the decision-making for the Joad clan. Even Ma, an adult, looks to her son to comfort her apprehension in chapter ten.
“Tom, I hope things is all right in California…seems too nice, kinda. I seen the han’bills fellas pass out, an’ how much they is, an’ high wages an’ all; an’ I seen in the paper how they want folks to come an’ pick grapes an’ oranges an’ peaches. That’d be nice work, Tom, pickin’ peaches…I’m scared of stuff so nice. I ain’t got faith. I’m scared somepin ain’t so nice about it.” (90-91)
As the chapter progresses, it becomes blatantly obvious that the women are not seen...
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As the Joad clan begins to disintegrate under the pressure of migration, there is evidence to support that the family shifts from a patriarchal structure to a matriarchal one. Trace the progression of this change by analyzing and discussing key examples from the novel.
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck shows Ma Joad as the strong force who realizes the true value and meaning of life.
II. Patriarchal structure in early chapters
A. Gathering to plan trip
B. Posture and position of men
C. Location of women
III. Focus of family life changes to truck
A. Contents of truck
B. Orders issued by Ma
C. Eyes of characters predict change
IV. Ma asserts authority
A. Incident of jack handle
B. Savagery of California deputies
C. Contradiction of Pa’s feelings that “life’s over and done with”
D. Structure of life at Weedpatch
E. Confrontation with camp manager
V. Ma takes actions
A. Decides to move from camp
B. Plans Tom’s escape from the peach ranch
C. Controls the family’s money
D. Finds work for the family
VI. Ma makes life and death decisions
A. Leads family from boxcar
B. Encourages Rose of Sharon to save a dying man
VII. Conclusion: Because of her personal strength and concerns
Ma Joad becomes the head of the family.