Rough Roads: Analysis of The Grapes of Wrath
One of the most intriguing issues presented by Steinbeck in his novel is the concept of the importance of home.
From the very beginning of the story, he stresses that having a place to call home is something that provides a sense of security as well as identity. Contrary to popular word, Steinbeck further portrays that home does not necessarily include a family. Muley Graves, who chooses a life of solitude and eminent death alone in Oklahoma, emphasizes this point. He tells the Joads that he “can’t go away…Time back [he] might of went. But not now… I ain’t never goin'”(75), choosing to stay in the country he was born and raised in, even if it means certain death. As Steinbeck also points out, people associate home with their values and lifestyle as well as their own identity.
Grandpa is so adamant about not leaving his home, the land where he was born and raised, that he must be physically forced into the car. Steinbeck continues to emphasize humans’ ties to their idea of home by means of reminiscing, nostalgic campfire chats and frequent allusions to the old ways of life. The Joads refer frequently to their life in Oklahoma and it becomes apparent that the idea of home is not only a location but a way of life. Ma and Pa reminisce about geese in the winter, for example, connecting themselves to their home, their former way of life and their former identities. Summarized by politician Kenny Guinn, “there is something permanent and extremely profound about the place we call home”. Steinbeck also presents the idea of gender roles in society and how hardship can warp society’s norms.
Towards the beginning of the novel, he introduces women as dependant on men, knowing “deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole” (14). By the end of the novel however, Pa, the natural leader of the family after Grandpa’s passing, constantly complains of losing his position to Ma, who has risen to the top of the hierarchy below everyone’s consciousness. Taylor Sharpe of Yahoo Network Contributors asserts that Ma “believes herself to be equal with men in all ways – an idea not necessarily supported by the intellectual community of Steinbeck’s time”. The unusualness of this situation emphasizes Steinbeck’s point that in times of desperation, true leaders emerge regardless of their former societal position. This transformation of traditional gender roles parallels the warped idea of lifestyle and standards. Steinbeck proves through these multiple incidents that gender roles have no place in the struggle for survival and that true leadership is blind to societal standards, gender being one of them.
The last issue that I felt was most notable in Steinbeck’s novel was the idea of pride and how it is connected to a person’s motivation. Self-image and hygienic standards play a larger role in a person’s perseverance and drive than we may think. At the Weed Patch Camp, when provided with resources that are basic to us such as toilet paper and running water, the Joads suddenly feel human as Ma excitedly says of their stay, “this here’s the time the fambly got to get decent”(207). Additionally, Tom shares a story about his time in jail which reiterates Steinbeck’s message that pride can make or break a person’s willpower. A man who was planning an elaborate escape plan was caught easily and, humiliated by his capture, wasted his days away in self-induced disgrace, eventually slitting his own wrists and bleeding to death. This anecdote directly addresses the fact that pride is directly linked to motivation and courage.
Alli Ghosh of the TeenInk literary magazine concludes that pride and more importantly self-respect is “a basis without which humans cannot progress”. Without our pride, we have no bravery and no drive to act. Steinbeck shows us that in times of such desperation, it was even more difficult to act courageously when one’s pride was in shambles and consequently one’s self-esteem.