Theme of Strength Through Unity in The Grapes of Wrath
The traditional human family represents a necessary transition between self and community. In the difficult era of the 1930's, the family's role shifted to guard against a hostile outside world rather than to provide a link with it. With the drought in the Dust Bowl and other tragedies of the Great Depression, many were forced to look beyond the traditional family unit and embrace their kinship with others of similar necessity. In his novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses the theme of strength through unity to comment on the relationship between the dissolution of individual families and the unification of the migrant people. The journey of the Joad family west illustrates this as they depart a parched Oklahoma, arrive in a hostile California, and eventually settle in amongst others as unwelcome there as they are.
With the return of Tom to the family in the beginning of the story, the Joad family is once again united, though at the same time we see them to be utterly isolated from other migrants. It is not until the loss of a proverbial "right-arm" of the family (Grandpa) that the family is first unified with others, the Wilsons. As their journey progresses, they lose more members and struggle through increasing hardships, but in each situation the two families act as one and persevere. Grandma follows her husband to the grave, Ivy Wilson's health degrades, Noah leaves the family he knows doesn’t truly love him, their cars continually break down, and their money is fast disappearing. Vehicles, food, and money are all shared, but with one family's loss the entire group benefits.
The Joad family's experiences when they first arrive in California ar...
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...n's baby is stillborn, signifying a terrible loss to the Joad family. Soon after, they come upon another family, and Rose of Sharon is able to use the milk meant for her dead child to help a sick, starving old man. What's more, Rose of Sharon used her own milk, something normally only for the family, signifying the absence of a traditional family, and instead a universal family of a common plight.
Throughout the course of the story, roughly half of the Joad family dies or disappears, but by the end of the novel the Joads are in a desperate yet relatively comfortable position. This was because as they gave up their kin, they were welcomed into society as a whole. In this manner John Steinbeck uses the theme Unity leads to Survival to comment on the relationship between the dissolution of individual families and the unification of the migrant people.
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