Power of Women in The Grapes of Wrath

Power of Women in The Grapes of Wrath

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Power of Women in The Grapes of Wrath


Women are known for as holding families together. When times get rough women are the foundation to the family and help keep things together. A woman poses different qualities that can help keep the family strong. These qualities can be categorized in the four archetypes of a woman. The idea of the woman Archetype is presented by Carl Jung. The first being Mother Nature, the very physical aspect and the second is the virgin, which represents the spiritual aspect of the archetype. The third is the young which who is the physical state while the fourth is the old witch possessing the spiritual side of the woman archetype. The four women in John Steinbecks, The Grapes of Wrath represent these four archetypes and take on responsibilities that in the end help the family succeeds in achieving their dreams.


      Ma Joad is a woman of strength and hope who is the backbone of the family. She represents the Mother Nature archetype while she posses the physical aspect of guiding the family and staying strong when the family needs her most. Steinbecks shows the importance of ma's character by the syntax usage to describe ma. " Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and work...her ankles, and her strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor", Ma is described with these features to show her strength as a mother who has control and survives through hard situations (95). Her 'bare feet' being close to the earth shows how she takes on a 'Mother Nature' archetype to her character. She is one with the earth just as Mother Nature is. Mother Nature is one that gives birth, produces, sustains life and nurtures her family. All of these archetypes are expressed in ma's character.


Even though she is a very strong woman she knows her role in the family. Ma knows when it is her time to help the family and when it is appropriate to step back and let the father run things. It is an unsaid statement but known by all in the family that  "ma was powerful in the group" and they look to her for important decision making (133).

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She is looked to for guidance and decisions so the family looks to her on how to react to situations. If mom is unhappy then the family is unhappy. When ma is upset you know something is wrong. Ma understands this concept and knows that she must control her reactions and emotions. Ma's "...full face was not soft; it was controlled kindly" because she knows she is the role model in her family. When Tom left to go to jail, she had to control her real feelings toward missing him because she doesn't want the family to be upset as well.  Al explains to Tom "she mourned when you was gone.  Done it all to herself.  Kinda cryin' down inside of her through.  We could tell what she was thinkin' about, though" they knew how she was felling even though she tried to hide it (227). All ma wants to see is that her family live in happiness. But it's hard for a mother to accomplish this when it's not in her control. The hardest thing for a mother to do is let her children make their own decisions and live their own lives. Ma shows her true character in the final scene where she lets Rose of Sharon make her own decision:


Ma's eyes passed Rose of Sharon's eyes, and then came back to them. And the two women looked deep into each other. The girl's breath came short and gasping. She said, 'Yes.' Ma smiled. ' I knowed you would. I knowed!' (580).


Ma is able to sit back and let Rose of Sharon decide for herself to give up part of herself to help another. There is nothing ma can do but sit with "...her hands, tight- locked in her lap" because she knows it is something Rose of Sharon has to decide (580). Ma because of this helps make an influence on her daughter, by showing her the mothers' duties in life to let their children learn from their own decisions and mistakes.


      Rose of Sharon is a young woman seeking guidance and council. She very much represents the virgin, one who lacks experience and constantly learning how to be a proper mother from ma and will eventually be able to be wise enough to make her own decisions. She is one that carries life and will be able to impact others around her by her actions.  Rose of Sharon not only carries life in her uterus but as well as a person. She stands spiritually as a Christ like figure. We see this foreshadowing of her Christ -like attributes as her hair represents a some what halo on her head as if a biblical allusion to Christ, " Her hair, braided and wrapped around her head, made an ash-blonde crown" (123). She sees things in the eyes of new life and reproduction, " ... the world was

pregnant to her" and with this pregnancy she is able to see and understand things that others may not (123). When one is in need she able to put others before herself and give life to someone in need. She couldn't give life to her baby, and feels that being able to give life to another, could make up for the lost life.  "Her hand moved behind his head and supported it...She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" she is satisfied that she is able to help give life to another person in need because that is her goal in life (581). Just as Christ did she is able to give up a part of herself for others benefit a decision she made on her own that shows her true maturity level that she has gained from experiences like these.


      Just as Rose of Sharon grew from Ma's example, so does Ruthie. She is the ' Young Witch' archetype who is very much physical. She is a young girl going through puberty that is trying to find her place in this world. She is young and inexperienced, trying to soak up as much knowledge as she can from her older examples. She is stuck between maturing and staying a child. "Ruthie felt the might, the responsibility, and the dignity of her developing breasts..." her body is maturing but she still has a child-like vision. She wants to be accepted as a maturing young adult but her actions contradict her desires. When given little responsibility she feels important and feels like she can be trusted with important information that affects the family. "Ruthie nodded and turned her head away, and her eyes were little girl eyes", she gets so excited but does not want Tom to see her reaction because she wants to be looked at maturely, like she can handle the responsibility; but in reality her response is that of a child's (375). Ruthie grows to mature through her older examples and is slowly maturing into a young adult.


      The last archetype is the 'Old Witch' which qualities are possed by grandma. She is the most experienced of the group and carries the most knowledge. She is a spiritual being who tries to help guide and direct. She sets the example for the other women to follow. But when her husband dies she feels she has lost everything. She not only has lost her husband but she has lost her land, her past and a place that held all her memories of her with her husband. When he passes away she starts to go crazy. She feels she has no purpose in life if he's not around for her to please. She cannot get past his death and feels there is no other way but for her to die. She stops fighting for her life and dies after he dies. She is the 'Old Witch' who spiritually survived off grandpas' existence and now has no reason to live, but her spirit still continues to stay with the Joad family.


      Through all these hardships the Joad family is able to make it to California and survive as a family. Maybe not the way they dreamed, but at lease they made it together. When all lost hope, Ma was there to comfort and lead. When there was death there was the reassurance that things would work out and that they needed to press on. When one life ended another was started, and when situations were at their worst, there came a helping hand and were saved. These women are the foundation to the Joad family and help them successfully live their dream to make it to California. Without these four women possessing these archetypes they may have never made it as a family, with such hope and dreams as they did.
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