Unity of a Family Explored in The Grapes of Wrath
One would say that on a literal level The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is about the Joad family's journey to California during The Dust Bowl. However, it is also about the unity of a family and the concept of birth and death, both literal and abstract. Along with this, the idea of a family unit is explored through these births and deaths.
As can be seen in The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads are a very tight-knit family. Yet on their trip to California, they experience many losses and additions to their family. In general, Steinbeck's novel abides by the circle of life. When a birth occurs, a death follows, and when a death occurs, a birth follows. However, in The Grapes of Wrath, the number of deaths outweighs the number of births as a way to show the negative impacts of The Dust Bowl.
The first birth in the novel occurs in Chapter Eight when Tom Joad returns from jail to his family. Prior to Tom's homecoming, Ma Joad had been deeply concerned about making the journey to California without him, because she did not want the family to break up before the start of their journey even occurred. The idea of Tom Joad returning at this point is considered a birth because the Joad family is now complete. This starts the novel giving the reader a better sense of the closeness of the Joad family. In addition, the first reference to death occurs in Chapter Ten. Grampa decides that he does not want to leave his land and go out west. "'This here's my country. I b'long here...I ain't a-goin'. This country ain't no good, but it's my country'" (152). Once again, as to not split up the family, Ma Joad drugs Grampa in order for the family to place him on the tru...
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...by that Rose of Sharon delivers in Chapter Thirty. One would believe that when Rose of Sharon delivers her dead baby, it is a sign that all hope is lost because it breaks the circle of life. However, Steinbeck ends The Grapes of Wrath on a somewhat uplifting note by incorporating one last birth. At the end of the novel, Rose of Sharon gives life to a dying old man by letting him drink the breast milk that she would have used in order to feed her own baby. "She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (619).
In conclusion, The Grapes of Wrath may appear, on surface level, to be a novel about an Oklahoma family's trip to California during the Dust Bowl. Instead, when looked at more deeply, The Grapes of Wrath is found to be a story about the circle of life and the way that a family stays together through this cycle.
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