The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is most often perceived as a depressing that enumerates the many failings of humans during the Great Depression and in general society. Daniel Joseph Singal agrees with this viewpoint, but with a twist. In his essay “Towards a Definition of American Modernism”, Singal shares how Steinbeck also has a message of hope contained within his story of hardship. Through the dreams a Ma and Rose of Sharon Joad, Steinbeck cautions readers on the action of dreaming, because one’s fantasies do not always turn into an expected reality.
In the novel, Ma demonstrates the virtues of being a careful dreamer in the Joad family, since her abstinence from over-hope serves her well in the end. The Joads are introduced as getting ready to go to California for work. The family buzzes with excitement, idealizing California’s beauty and goodness. Ma is glad that her family has a hope of surviving the Great Depression, but at the same ...view middle of the document...
Ma’s daughter Rose of Sharon exemplifies the downfall of fantasizing, yet she is also a beacon of hope to failing dreamers since the role she expected morphed into an even better destiny. Rose of Sharon is an expectant mother who has lofty dreams, starting with a delivery of the baby by a Californian doctor. However, when the baby is stillborn, Rose of Sharon’s dreams are crushed. In addition, she is unprepared for the time after pregnancy without a baby. In the end, Rose of Sharon finds a use for her new maternal abilities on an unexpected subject, a 50-year-old starving man. Rose of Sharon “bared her breast. ‘You got to,’ she said [to the man] … Her hand moved behind his head and supported it... She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously” (Steinbeck 455). When Rose of Sharon “bare[s] her breast”, she accepts a new role as a mother of the destitute. The hand that “moved behind [the starving man’s] head and supported it” is a symbolic representation of holding up the dignity of the migrant workers during their misfortune in California, the place of dreams during the Great Depression. The fact that Rose of Sharon “smile[s] mysteriously” reveals that she understands that her present reality may be odd, yet is happy to be a part of it. The mystery of fate is now clear to her. She dreamed for nine months to mother a baby, but her role is to mother anyone who is in desperate need of careful attention. A helper of others is usually considered to be the greatest title one can have; thus, although Rose of Sharon’s dreams with her baby did not come true, she receives an even better, albeit unexpected, reality.
Clearly, although Steinbeck may warn against over-dreaming, he also supports the idea of hope for a better future. Ma’s careful fantasizing keeps her strong enough to get through hardships to an easier time. Rose of Sharon has unrequited dreams, but her reality is richer in substance. It is all right to have faith, but one must be prepared to tackle the truth that life may not always go as planned. The unplanned courses of life may not always seem acceptable at the time, but they often make one into a better individual.