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Critical Essay by Carroll Britch and Cliff Lewis
SOURCE: "Growth of the Family in The Grapes of Wrath," in Critical Essays on Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, edited by John Ditsky, G. K. Hall, 1989, pp. 97-108.
In the following essay, Britch and Lewis examine the solidarity and self-preservation of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. According to Britch and Lewis, "if ever the mettle of the American spirit has been tested and found strong, it has been so with the Joads."
Resistance to innovation indicates, in the eye of nature, senility and senility is doomed to be discarded…. That nation thrives best which is most flexible, and which has fewer prejudices to hamper adaption.
Although it addresses issues of great sociological change, The Grapes of Wrath is at its core about the family and the struggle of its members to assert their separate identities without breaking up as a family. In his treatment of the Joads, Steinbeck manages to delineate "kid-wild" Winfield through "growed-up" Tom to "lecherous" Grampa in ways that gain each an individualized life beyond their inherited roles in the family hierarchy as well as beyond the symbolic roles they serve as an "over-essence of people" to amplify the argument of the plot. The argument, as Steinbeck writes in his "Journal," is that the Joads and those like them must abandon their felt notions of individualism and move toward an "I to We" relationship with the other migrants if they are to survive the economic and spiritual challenge of their displacement. Hence, the central question of the narrative is whether or not the Joads can act on Casy's principle "to love all people" and still remain as Ma would have it "one thing … the fambly … whole and clear."
Contrary to some prevailing views, it is our contention that 1) the Joad family does not break up so much as grow up; 2) that its members are less altruistic than self-protective; and 3) that they articulate the argument of the plot precisely because they achieve in the novelistic sense a convincing human reality. In order for the central question to sustain its tension throughout the four odd months of the Joads' wanderings, it is crucial that they as individuals and as a family unit confront the challenge of the transformation from "I to We" in terms of the emotional logic and ethic that characterized their everyday life in Oklahoma. For if the Joads were to embrace Casy's principle just because it seems a nice idea, their being and his idea would pale for lack of credibility.
As Brooks Adams implies in his thoughts about "resistance to innovation," people are slow to change—if at all. And were it not for the intolerable conditions that the Joads encounter on the road, they as a group would likely fall prey to the "senility" that dooms Muley Graves, not to mention Grampa. In a letter to the literary critic Joseph Henry Jackson, Steinbeck argues the motive that leads those like the Joads to growth and change: "The human like any other life form will tolerate an unhealthy condition for some time, and then will either die or will overcome the condition either by mutation or by destroying the unhealthful condition. Since there seems little tendency for the human race to become extinct, and since one cannot through biological mutation overcome the necessity for eating, I judge that the final method will be the one chosen." Most of the Joads survive because they do like to eat, but work to keep on eating because they have a dream. Like the turtle and the seeds it carries on its journey, the Joads take the souls of themselves with them west. Their will to move may have been born of necessity, but their movement is sustained by the down-to-earth hopes of better days that have often seen Americans through to prosperity. For Uncle John especially, the initial "unhealthful condition" is the self-pity that issues from a distorted sense of sin concerning his part in a calamitous childbirth. At times Rosasharn and Pa suffer in just about the same way for similar reasons. Nevertheless, the external unhealthiness of flood, famine, and economic injustice spurs them on to do eventually what, as Ma says of Tom, is "more'n" themselves.
Uprooted, the fundamental dream they share is that of stability and self-respect. On the farm the family enjoyed both. They slide from being land owners to being renters. True. But that slide still afforded them the dignity to serve as hosts. And on the road Ma intends that they do not backslide into the wretchedness that has destroyed the humanity of many in Hooverville. In show of her fundamental spirit she accepts Casy into the family because the Joads just do not refuse "food an' shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that ask[s]." Her dream of "a little white house" and Rosasharn's dream to "live in a town" to make it "nice for the baby" bespeak their ethic to re-establish a home, out from the protection of which they can in the pride of true deed care for themselves as well as for others in need.
All of the blood-Joads, excepting Noah, display a healthy sense of themselves. If Steinbeck had not created them so, they could hardly be used to work out the "I to We" theme either within the family or within the large social unit that the family comes to represent. As proud as it is of its pioneering background, the family is not a Joad but a unit—a we—made up of several singular "I's" who answer to the name if Joad. At Uncle John's the staging area and jump-off point of the journey, each family member in his or her own way answers also to the call of pulling together to make the trip happen. Apart from moments of negative self-involvement (which is only human), when it comes to serving the family unit each Joad, with the exception noted, displays a "we" attitude throughout. Even Ruthie and Winfield, who are just too young to consider much other than their own ego-demands, help to pick peaches and do domestic chores. Ma's sense of we-ness seems always to have extended beyond the immediate family. And, as evidenced by the famous milk-sharing scene of the final chapter, it is boundless. She exists as the essence of Casy's principle, and is "so great with love," hence fearlessness, that she makes even him feel "afraid an' mean." Her capacity to care marks the measure of her self-respect. As the action progresses, her caring does not change in kind but rather grows in breadth and intensity. But even at that, her family comes first. Steinbeck reveals it as a training ground for an expanded social consciousness. However, with Ma at the head the family harbors no armchair philosophers or bleeding-hearts.
"Citadel" of the family, Ma defines its membership in terms of those who can defend it against disorganization, dishonor, sickness, broken-down transportation, meanness, lack of food, and want of shelter. Well before Tom arrives at Uncle John's to announce his parole and surprise home-coming, the able members of the family have joined in work to prepare for life on the road. Al, the young "tom-catter," has made a good buy on a Hudson that Pa Joad is finishing converting to a truck when Tom does arrive. Uncle John is in town selling off odds and ends to help finance the trip. On the eve of the journey Noah, the first-born, and Tom, the second-born, slaughter the pigs to eat on the way. Casy helps Ma to salt them. His doing "woman's work" foreshadows the reversal of roles the general uprooting engenders, illustrates his personal need to repay his hosts, and demonstrates through actual deed his preachings about love and service to people in need. Rosasharn packs the family clothes and stacks for loading many of the larger household goods. Granma and Grampa and the kids do little but eat and sleep. The narrator does not mention Connie by name as doing anything other than squatting in place with the other men during the family conference, and before that he was off "nestin" with Rosasharn at his folks' place. However, for the Joads work is pride. Al's work with the Hudson earns him not only his "first participation in the conference" but also the compliment from Grampa and big brother Tom that he has "done good." At sixteen, Al may "think of nothin' but girls and engines"; nevertheless, it is that very thinking that helps to get his folks to California, gets him a wife, and will likely make his dream of getting a job in a garage a reality. In essence, Al is a family man. That he leaves his Ma and Pa to make a life of his own with Wainwright is, even in hard times, a good and healthy thing to do—and it in no way hurts his blood-kin or spoils his relationship with them. In reference to the marriage, Ma says "we're glad. We're awful glad."
Given the plain fact that old folks normally fight to stay put and that children struggle to cut the cord to make a life of their own, the Joads as families go are no more split up at the start than at the finish of the novel. Speeding up the normal process is the fact that the highway becomes "their home and movement their medium of expression." Granma and Grampa die en route as casualties of old age, displacement, and exhaustion. Once in the ground they are hardly mentioned by anyone again. Faced with the immediate needs of the living, especially with feeding Ruthie and Winfield and with soothing Rosasharn after Connie leaves, Ma realizes that she must "forget" the dead. The ones who depart of their own accord, including Al, do so because they cannot sustain their sense of selfhood if they stay.
Tom's motives for leaving are exceptional. And they are mixed. Wanted for murder and in hiding, he can be of no practical use to the family if he stays. A man of action, Tom exhibits few self-doubts. Near the end of the novel he decides that "long as [he's] a outlaw anyways," he might just as well carry on Casy's work in organizing the strikers, and in that way help the plight of his family from afar. Anyway, as things happen, Ruthie gets into a kid-fight over Cracker Jacks, and to save face she blabs about Tom's having "kil't two fellas," and in light of this brag Tom is forced to leave to save his skin. Unlike Noah and Connie, Tom goes with Ma's blessing and her gift of seven dollars to help him on his way.
By choice Noah is the first to go. He worked all his life on the family farm and helped to ready things for the journey. But as "a stranger to all the world" he has never really dwelt within the bosom of the family. With the words "Listen, you goddamn fool—" Tom is the only one to see Noah off down the Colorado River, and when he is barely out of eyesight Tom lies down to sleep. Ma worries a bit about how Noah will eat, but at Weedpatch she dismisses him from her mind, saying, "Maybe he'll have a nice time by the river. Maybe it's better so." Incapable of wrath and amazed by its appearance in others, Noah is Steinbeck's boldest example of the self-involved and self-contained "I." He is the total opposite of his brother Tom, Ma's favorite. He could never find comfort dwelling in Tom's shadow or in the "embarrassed eyes" of his Pa. And he would most certainly shy away from the common cause that Ma supports and that Tom comes to embrace. Marked by a "twisted" birth, and with "no sexual urges," making it on his own is about the most grown-up thing Noah could try.
Connie Rivers is the next to go. He sneaks off without so much as a "so long" to anyone. In chapter 10 the narrator states that he is "a good hard worker and would make a good husband," but that he is "frightened and bewildered" by Rosasharn's pregnancy. Well, the reader never sees him work. But the reader does see him frightened. The fact of Hooverville is just too much for him. Of a "Texan strain" and not a Joad, Connie brags too much, specifically about how he is going to study radio by mail and get Rosasharn a house and car. Whether he leaves to study up on radios or tractors is anyone's guess. But that he leaves his wife halfway through her pregnancy for the truly illusory dream of making a success of himself through "home study" marks him a failure as a man and husband. He has witnessed Pa Joad lose his place as head of the family because of poverty and Ma's demands, and he no doubt knows that he can in no way live up to Rosasharn's dream of motherhood. He leaves to save face. Aside from Rosasharn, the greater family does not miss him. Pa Joad concludes that "Connie wasn' no good. I seen that a long time. Didn' have no guts, jus' too big for his overalls." Ma agrees, and tells Pa to act as if Connie were "dead."
Now, although Connie and Noah have vanished like deserters from the heat of battle, the essential family structure is still intact, and stronger without them. They were on the fringe at best. And better men have replaced them. Foreshadowing the good luck it has in securing room at Weedpatch and work on the road, the family is strengthened by the chance meeting of Tom and Casy. It will be remembered that, back in Oklahoma, Casy teamed up with Tom on Tom's way "home," and that both arrived at Uncle John's out of the blue and just in time to join the family for the trip West. On behalf of the younger members of her family, Ma would have gone without Tom. Even before the family "shove[d]" off their homestead and their house was "all pushed out a shape," Tom was all but dead to them. During his four years of imprisonment, he received one Christmas card from Ma and one from Granma, and that is all. Released, Tom brings new life into the family, and in a very material way prefigures the virtual death of his brother Noah, whose knowledge of the outside world and modern machinery is zero. And his gift of Casy to the family, who is an outsider but brother to all, prefigures the demise of Connie, whose behavior as a brother-in-law leaves much to be desired. It may be a bad pun but it is no accident that Steinbeck has Connie Rivers and Noah (whose name is associated with the destruction of the world by flood) disappear within a few days of one another along a river and well before the hardship of the flood the family undergoes at the end of the narrative. In short, without Noah and Connie, as without Granma and Grampa, the family as Ma defines it is better equipped to survive the agony ahead, of which Hooverville in all its meanness of spirit is but an initiation.
As a reflection of the sorry spectacle, it is at Hooverville that Uncle John comes face to face with his own lack of self-honor and life-purpose. Having witnessed Casy just go right up to be arrested by a deputy by saying straight out that he clobbered one of them makes Uncle John "feel awful." He knows that he could have stepped in and helped Tom and Floyd, and taken the blame on himself. But he "slipped up," and so goes off by himself to get drunk. Not until the flood and the miscarriage of Rosasharn's baby does Uncle John find himself. He sets the apple box that serves as the baby's coffin afloat in the flood waters and says, "Go down an' tell em. Go down in the street an' rot an' tell 'em that way." Given his shy nature, it is fitting that he attacks the system that helped to kill the baby alone and without the need of congratulation from anyone. He does "more'n" himself. Although the gesture may go unheeded, he consciously aligns himself with the struggle of the "We." And he does so in a manner no less creative than, and every bit as shocking as, Rosasharn's baring her breast to nurse a starving man.
If the dead baby were not blood kin, and the stab of injustice personal, he may never have been moved to express his wrath against the general condition. Like John, Pa Joad is moved to action for personal reasons. He wants his family to stay dry. But he needs help. He cannot build a dike alone. Wainwright, Al's future father-in-law, thinks in a waste. But Pa persuades him and others by saying, "Well, we ain't doin' nothin'…. We can do her if ever'body helps." The day before the flood Pa feels that his life is "over an' done." Building the dike renews his spirit, and teaches him that there is much to be gained through the "We" attitude. The dike does break, but it holds just long enough for Rosasharn to deliver, and for that Pa is moved to laugh "in triumph."
It will be recalled that when Casy went off to jail at Hooverville he did so with a "smile" and "a curious look of conquest" on his face. Shortly before his arrest he had confessed to Tom that he wanted to "go off alone" because he was "a-eatin" the family food and "doin' nobody no good" in return. Hence, like Pa and John, who knowingly or not follow his example, Casy triumphs over his doubts of self-worth by acting in behalf of others in need. For most of the Joads, his spirit does indeed take hold. It shows up in the "smile" of Ma when she gives her blessing to Al to "stay" in the boxcar with Aggie while she leads the rest of the family to higher ground. En route, the spirit even takes hold of Ruthie, who finally realizes that there is little fun in playing alone, and so shares the petals of a wild geranium with her brother Winfield. And it positively radiates from the face of Rosasharn as the "mysterious smile" that concludes the narrative. Finding self-worth through sharing and cooperating with kin and outsiders is what keeps the Joads, with the exceptions noted, from falling apart as a family and failing as migrants.
What probably causes some readers to conclude that the Joads break up is Tom's mission, Al's engagement, and Ma's complaint at the Hooper ranch that "There ain't no fambly now." Yet her family is in fact with her, and those who are able are doing their share of work in the orchard. Her complaint focuses on the "wildness" of the kids to Pa's "lost place" as head of the family. However, it is calculated to persuade Tom to "stay an' help." Tom stays, but he is in no condition to do anything but rest and hide from the vigilantes. In short, Ma at this point is just plain depressed, and so uses every trick of motherhood she knows to delay the inevitable departure of her favorite son, whose spirit she trusts, and whom she has come to lean on as the male leader of the family. Earlier, she told Tom straight out how she felt about him as opposed to the rest of the family; "Them others—they're kinda strangers, all but you…. Ever'thing you do is more'n you." And now, at Hooper's, she wants his moral support. They are soul mates. From the strength of that bond she can when the time comes see him off, and say to Pa "I—sent 'im away." During the flood, as mentioned above, she does the same for Al—that is, without emotional blackmail, she releases Al to grow on his own with a new family. And although the narrative is open-ended, Al will likely stay around the boxcar for a few weeks to start the Hudson, for none of the vehicles will dry out until then. Yet, beyond the practical help the Joads lend one another, the basic thing that makes them a family is what George explains to Lennie in chapter 1 in Of Mice and Men: "We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us."
The Joad who talks the most, and whose thoughts are directed toward putting into action the "I to We" principle, is Tom. He is the one Joad capable of the violence needed to combat the "unhealthful condition" that violates the dignity and very survival of the migrants. The motive source of his tendency to violence is personal. Like Muley Graves, who is ready to kill any of "them sons-a-bitches" that threaten to push him around, Tom is quick to protect his pride and person. He admits that prison did not reform him, saying, "if I seen Herb Turnbull comin' for me with a knife right now, I'd squash him down with a shovel again…. Do her before I could figure her out…. That sort of sense-lessness kind a worries a man." Yet prison taught him how to survive in any environment. He receives an early release for good behavior because he learned how to handle the inmates and the officials without having to use violence to protect his dignity. It is turtlelike willpower and determination to survive that brings Tom back to the family, but it is his ability to change and adapt to a reality even tougher than prison that enables him to view the means by which the Okies will survive. He is capable of picking up on Black Hat's thoughts about the five thousand Akron strikers who "jes' marched through town with their rifles. An' they had their turkey shoot … ain't been no trouble sence then."
On the road Tom evolves from just a guy who wanted to enjoy his whiskey, smokes, whores, and home-cooked meals to a figure expansive enough to represent the essence of the American spirit, what Steinbeck later described as the "national character." "I thought," he wrote, "that if we had a national character and national genius, these people, who were beginning to be called Okies, were it. With all the odds against them, their goodness and strength survived." If Tom and his kin had not run out of cash, he would likely not have become Steinbeck's realistic version of the questing knight in search of the lost grail: the American Dream of justice, democracy, and the opportunity to live in dignity.
As illustrated by his angry gesture of crushing the "hard skull-like head" of a grasshopper in response to the nosey truckdriver who pushes him to admit that he is an ex-convict, Tom is dangerous to anyone who would tarnish his sense of self-dignity. His greatest enemies, of course, are those wanting cheap labor. But with economic individualism doomed, Tom and his like no longer have a power base from which to defend their rights. Hence, to maintain at least the sense of personal power and self-worth, Tom and the others take strength from their subconscious memories or dreams. Steinbeck writes in an editorial chapter that they "seemed to be part of an organization of the unconscious. They obeyed impulses…."
However, some of Tom's more violent impulses have to be restrained. His re-education begins with Muley Graves, a former neighbor, and at the very place of his birth where, on a smaller scale, Tom gets a glimpse of the more powerful militant forces that he will face in California. He learns from Muley of Willy Feely, a former cotton farmer, who drives a "cat" for the powerful forces who now own the land. Why hold this demeaning job? Willy remarks: "I got two little kids…. What happens to other folks is their look-out." Like his kind in California Willy has become a deputy sheriff, and Tom learns that he can no longer approach the Willys of the land as an equal. Rather than get "pushed around," Tom would "lots rather take a sock at Willy." After Muley explains that Willy may use his gun, Tom realizes his present plight. By challenging Willy and his power structure, "I ain't got a thing in the worl' to win, no matter how it comes out." Later, at the "half a buck" campgrounds in New Mexico, when the proprietor calls Tom a bum, he shows that he has not forgotten Muley's lesson, saying, "It's a hard thing to be named a bum. I ain't afraid … I'll go for you an' your deputy with my mitts—here now, or jump Jesus. But there ain't no good in it." However, in California, when stopped on route to Weedpatch, he would have clobbered a whiskey-smelling Legionnaire with a jack handle if Ma had not restrained him. The Legionnaire calls him a "goddamn Okie" but Tom backs down from a fight by assuming a "servile whine" in asking directions to Tulare. Good thing. The Legionnaires are "armed with pick handles and shotguns."
At Weedpatch Tom joins a committee to prevent hooligans from the Cattle and Growers Associations from starting a riot at the Saturday night dance. With but the show of force the committee escorts the troublemakers out of camp without hurting them. Beyond the obvious lesson that there is strength in a will united, Tom gains also from the experience the good sense that, even outside of prison, there can be dignity in a nonviolent approach to people who would put him down. Happily, he carries that attitude to Hooper Ranch—a false Eden—which the Joads enter for work picking peaches, ignorant that they are strike breakers. The orchard is a virtual prison. Tom wants to get outside to discover what is going on. Neither Pa nor Al will go with him, so he tries alone. An armed guard challenges him. Tom backs away. But he does not whine. In reflection of the Weedpatch strategy, he remains cool, declaring, "If it's gonna cause a mess, I don't give a darn. Sure, I'll go back." He escapes. Unfortunately, he then walks into a real "mess." And, for the second time in his life, he kills a man.
Prone to violence though he is, it is important to see Tom's gentler side. For example, the turtle that some motorists try to hit, Tom treats as a pet and as a worthy gift for Ruthie and Winfield. On his way to Uncle John's, a gopher snake crosses his path. Tom says, "Let him go." Tom is neither instinctively cruel nor destructive. When he drives the Hudson he feels no remorse in running over the dangerous rattlesnake, but his reaction to hitting the frightened jackrabbit is telling: "Gives me a little shakes ever' time." And he confesses to Al that he is sorry he killed young Turnbull "'cause he was dead." Al, obviously proud of his brother Tom, sums him up at Hooverville in the declaration that he is just "as nice as pie till he's roused, an' then—look out." Tom will not be reduced to the level of a turtle.
Beyond direct threat to his person, what rouses Tom the most is the fact that law has become a tool of the fascistic Association of Farmers. He assures Ma more than once that he is not a "Floyd" who attacks society out or personal bitterness. He explains: "if it was the law they [land owners] was workin' with, why, we could take it. But it ain't the law. They're a workin' away at our spirits … tryin' to break us." The few moments that Tom spends with Casy in the ravine of his bloody murder gives Tom a glimpse of the possibility of organizing the Okies to challenge the power structure. Hence, when the agents of that structure beat Casy down, they in effect attack the new hope in Tom that friend Casy inspired. There is an ugly irony in the fact that the very tool of the laborer, a new pick handle, is used against Casy. Tom is enraged. A man like his brother Noah or brother-in-law Connie would have fled. But Tom wrests the pick handle away from the murderer, and then strikes him not once but five times. The brutality in this overkill demystifies Tom: he is cruel beyond what is necessary to save himself. And now to survive he must run.
With his face looking like the raw meat of a prizefighter's, the last we see of Tom is in chapter 28, what we call the "harvest" chapter. Like Rose of Sharon, he takes counsel with himself in a "cave of vines." There he explains to Ma his new resolve, the harvest of his hard knocks: since he's an "outlaw anyways" he will be present, if not in fact then in spirit, to lead the "fight so hungry people can eat"—this because the struggle for mere self-survival is not enough, for a "fella ain't no good alone." He has grown to realize that the rewards of life must be harvested in the here and now, and that hope in the religious hereafter will not cure the present misery. He and the others of his lot must work together to drive back the oppressors who would break their spirit. Tom is not alone in holding this vision. Floyd Knowles at Hooverville and Black Hat at Weedpatch express the same ideas. But Tom's temperament, passion, and particular circumstance make it probable that he will become in word and deed a strike organizer. On the run he has little to lose and much to gain from working underground. Being joined to the just cause of his people will make him a good outlaw.
Al assumes Tom's role as male leader of the family. From the youth who was chastised by Pa for having been away two weeks when preparations for the trip were under way, Al at journey's and is hardly recognizable. He proves Tom's faith in the resurgence of the Okie spirit. He has heeded the big brother who said, "Al, don' keep ya guard up when nobody ain't sparrin' with ya." Hence, when he announces his decision to marry Aggie, his defiant speech is directed not so much against the two families as it is against the outside economic forces that lurk to ambush his dream of a job, a marriage, and a house: "they ain't nobody can stop us." And when a stranger threatens Pa somehow to even the score for having been talked into working on the flood wall that broke, Al's defense of his father is as vigorous as Tom's might have been: "You're gonna fight your way in." Pa restrains Al as Ma restrained Tom and deals in a peaceful manner with the intruder.
After the rains stop it is Al who makes the plans on how to protect both families from the rising flood. Casy or Tom could be speaking: "I been a-thinkin.'" While Al and Ma plan on building a platform to shield the families from the water, Ma's eyes open from her sleep and "She crie[s] sharply in warning, 'Tom! Oh, Tom! Tom!'" Then she lapses back into her dream. It is dawn. Whether or not her warning saves her favorite in his travail, it seems to summon Al to take Tom's place of leadership—for upon the instant he sets to work to keep the family high and dry. Finishing the job, Al makes a conscious stand as leader by requesting of Pa that he go buy food for breakfast: "I need some meat."
The Joads and the Wainwrights have a new warrior. As such, Al accepts the responsibility of guarding his family's possessions as well as his wife-to-be. His harvest does not include the larger questions of social justice that feed Tom. For it will be remembered that at the peach orchard "Al looked away." But his passion for an honest piece of the American pie is undeniable, and, in terms of the family ethic, praiseworthy. As Ma says, "I couldn't want for a better boy." And she sallies forth to nurture Winfield and Ruthie, who, as the seedlings of the family, have a way to go in weathering the hazards of Self and the outside world before reaching the height of Al, Tom, and Rosasharn. That Ma ushers them into "the tool shed" at the close of the narrative is telling. For such is the emblem of the migrant family, and the hope of their lot.
Although the narrative is open-ended, the Joads on the whole have demonstrated that their "fears" of the general "unhealthy condition" have in effect evaporated in their dreams of better days, acts of sharing, and gestures of "wrath." Noah, Connie, and the grandparents never grow beyond their old ways of thinking. But the rest have shown themselves as bright innovators and forward thinkers. Dashed hopes and sudden changes have not broken their spirit. A happy and normal change is that Al has become the star figure of two families. A change of mixed feeling is that the older men have come to accept themselves as well as their deflated status in the family hierarchy. Uncle John has ceased complaining about his old "sins" and Pa does the shopping, even if what he buys displeases Ma. Despite the changes, the family has not, as the critics cited in note 4 insist, broken up. Rather, it has restructured itself to meet the challenge of new life in changing times. Ma gives orders to keep "the family unbroke" because the family is her pride and best means of security. And, in another reversal of family habit, she and Rosasharn earn that security by working in the fields and orchards right alongside of the men. Uncle John and Pa take the orders because they no longer have the particular distinction of being the only family members to bring home the bacon. They stay because the family is their friend, and the best they have.
Each, the kids included, has experienced the intentional meanness of landlords, the indiscriminate fury of the flood, the anger of strangers, and the self-doubts of their own worth. But, excepting Ruthie, they have also reached out in kindness to strangers, and as strangers have accepted kindness. Through it all they have come to know or to sense that their plight is not unique, and that some others are far worse off than themselves. That Pa and Uncle John gaze "helplessly" at the sick man Rose of Sharon feeds bespeaks not only their feeling of vulnerability but also their impulse to help. With the only means they have at hand they do help: Pa, especially, puts aside his authority as the male elder and forgoes any word of sarcasm or defeatism; in silence both men acquiesce to the extraordinary thing Ma urges the daughter to do. They, like Ma and Rosasharn, indeed do "more'n" themselves, and in ways that declare their individuality and their role as "essence people," both. Finally, if every the mettle of the American spirit and family has been tested and found strong, it has been so with the Joads.
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