Throughout the book, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the physical transition of the Joad family from a small close-knit group of people living a quiet life on a farm in Oklahoma, corresponds with the internal transition of the concept of family. As the Joads leave their farm and journey westward, they no longer live just within their own isolated unit. Becoming involved with other families as they migrate, changes their focus and by the end of the book, the family members each reach out in their own way to embrace all of mankind as a family.
Initially, the Joad's focus is on their own immediate family and their struggle to stay together. The individual family members appear to have specific roles. Mr. Joad, as was typical of the time and area, is the decision maker and the head of the family. Mrs. Joad, the emotional leader of the family, is the real strength and she recognizes her position. "She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." (Pg. 80)
One of the first incidences of the family expanding along the journey is when grandpa dies. The Wilsons, another migrant family, loan their tent for Grandpa to rest and as Ma prepares Grandpa for burial, Mrs. Wilson cooks the family diner. More important, Grandpa's death is recorded on a page from Mrs. Wilson's Bible. An even more significant event occurs when the Joads are having a family meeting and Pa calls the Wilsons over to hear their thoughts. When it comes time to continue the journey, the decision is made that the two families will travel as one. Ma agr...
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...ers her but after her baby is born dead, she recognizes the needs of a starving old man and breast feeds him to keep him alive. This seems to be the final step in the incorporation of the family from a single unit to a broader concept of the whole family of man.
Though the immediate family becomes smaller, the Joads become part of a larger family as they unite together with other migrating families to endure the struggles and cruelties of the trip. In all ways they interact as a family. The Joads and the other families help protect each other, feed each other when the food is limited, and care for each other providing support during times of loss and death and also sharing in times of joy such as the birth of a new child. The Joad family endured several tragedies resulting in losses to their family group but ended up far greater in number than when they began.
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