Ma Joad as Leader in The Grapes of Wrath

Ma Joad as Leader in The Grapes of Wrath

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In a crisis, a person's true colors emerge. The weak are separated
from the strong and the leaders are separated from the followers. In John
Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family, forced from their
home in Oklahoma, head to California in search of work and prosperity only
to find poverty and despair. As a result of a crisis, Ma Joad emerges as a
controlled, forceful, and selfless authority figure for the family.

Ma Joad exhibits exelent self-control during the sufferings and
frustrations of the Joad's journey. Ma knows that she is the backbone of
the family, and that they will survive only if she remains calm. Ma keeps
her self-control when Ruthie tells some children about Tom's secret. The
family becomes nervous and enraged over the situation, but Ma restores
order by handling the situation in a calm and collected manner. If Ma were
to ever show fear, the family would most likely collapse. For, "Old Tom
and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt
or fear." Thus, if Ma acts as if everything is all right, then the family
will assume everything is all right. Most members of the family openly
express their doubts or fears. Ma may be just as frightened as the rest of
the family, but she always maintains a front for the rest of the family.
When Ma had fears, "She had practiced denying them in herself." This
extraordinary self-control helps to keep the Joad unit together and alive.

Ma, like all leaders, must be forceful for things to work in her
favor. Numerous situations occur in which Ma must be forceful or
relinquish her role as the head of the family. Her forceful leadership
occurs once when the family, without Ma's consent, agrees to leave Tom and
Casey behind to fix the Wilson's car. Ma feels this will break up the
family and uses a jack handle to prove her point. It is at this point Ma
replaces Pa as the official head of the family. Ma's forceful leadership
also surfaces when she threatens a police officer with a frying pan and
when she decides for the family to leave the government camp. In both
situations Ma must use force to achieve her objectives; in both situations,
she emerges victorious. Eventually, Pa becomes angered because of his loss
of power to a woman and says in frustration, "Seems like times is changed.

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Ma's will and forcefulness help her to be the steadfast leader her family
needs in its darkest hour.

Ma's selflessness emerges as her most important quality as the
leader of the family unit. Often Ma sacrifices her own well-being for that
of the family. For example, Ma risks her mental well-being when Granma is
dying. The family stops at the California border, and Granma is dead. Ma
fears that if she tells the guard, the family might not be allowed to enter
California. She lies to the guard, saying Granma feels very sick and needs
a doctor. She spends the rest of the night lying beside the body, waiting
until it is safe to tell the family. In response to the situation, Ma says
miserably, "The fambly hadda get acrost." Ma's selfless qualities are also
expressed by her actions toward Jim Casey's ideals. Casey feels that all
is holy, and everything is a holy action. In nearly every action, Ma shows
concern for her family's needs and sometimes, when the situation arises,
the needs of strangers as well. Also, Casey believes in an oversoul, and
Ma's selflessness embraces this concept. Ma thinks of everyone as if she
is thinking of herself, making her one with the whole community, thus
fulfilling the oversoul concept. Ma's sacrifice of her needs for those of
the family is a subtle yet powerful method of her leadership of the family

In the Joad's hour of darkness, Ma emerges as their savior. Ma's
success can be attributed to superb self-control, forcefulness, and
selflessness. Just as Ma leads, Pa is shown to be no more than a
reluctant follower. In a crisis, a person's true colors show. Some people
run and hide, some step aside to follow, and a select few step up and lead.

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