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Heroism In The Grapes Of Wrath

1162 words - 5 pages

Dictionaries’ definitions of the word hero are exceedingly vague. A standard dictionary limits the definition of a hero to, “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities” (Dictionary.com). Heroes are people, not just men, who are generous, courageous, and take every event as part of the whole stream of life rather than as a critical moment. Humanity, endurance, and perseverance are other critical characteristics of a deserving candidate for such a title. John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, does an excellent job of defining a hero through the character, Ma Joad. As the Joad clan disintegrated under the pressure of dispossession and migration, Ma emerged as a central, cohesive force. Maintaining her composure, she heroically led the family on their journey towards the dream of a better life.
From the beginning, Ma was a strong woman who had the ability to do anything, such as salt a pig. Her past, which was filled with a variety of obstacles and suffering, equipped her with such strength. When one observed Ma, they saw that, “Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding” (Steinbeck 79). Past events in her life prepared her and made her a resilient woman. Such events may also have resulted in her strong intuition. In the start, she doubted the idea of going to California and thought that the ideas many held about California as a safe haven were too good to be true. Tom Joad, her son, asked her why she felt that way and she replied, “‘I’m scared of stuff so nice. I ain’t got faith. I’m scared somepin ain’t so nice about it’” (Steinbeck 97). In addition, her humane quality as a mother influenced her decisions. Ma’s strong sense of sharing with strangers explained why she let Jim Casy come along with them on their journey to California. Pa Joad worried about the extra mouth to feed, yet Ma firmly pronounced the code of hospitality and neighborliness saying, “‘It ain’t kin we? It’s will we?...an’ I never heard tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean’” (Steinbeck 111). Her possession of this sense of community, which reached beyond the boundaries of kinship, surfaced numerous times throughout the novel, serving as testimonies to her heroism.
As the novel progressed, Ma’s heroic qualities were enhanced. She prepared Grampa’s body and nursed Granma until her death. In protecting Granma, she kicked the Jehovite woman away from Granma and kicked the rude police officer out of her tent at the government camp. When Granma passed away, Ma kept her death secret. Although it was difficult, Ma controlled the expression of her own emotions to keep her family calm. Moreover, she left food and money for Ivy Wilson despite his refusal to accept these...

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