The Changing Concept of Family in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Throughout the book, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the physical transition of the Joad family from a small close-knit group of people living a quiet life on a farm in Oklahoma, corresponds with the internal transition of the concept of family. As the Joads leave their farm and journey westward, they no longer live just within their own isolated unit. Becoming involved with other families as they migrate, changes their focus and by the end of the book, the family members each reach out in their own way to embrace all of mankind as a family.
Initially, the Joad's focus is on their own immediate family and their struggle to stay together. The individual family members appear to have specific roles. Mr. Joad, as was typical of the time and area, is the decision maker and the head of the family. Mrs. Joad, the emotional leader of the family, is the real strength and she recognizes her position. "She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." (Pg. 80)
One of the first incidences of the family expanding along the journey is when grandpa dies. The Wilsons, another migrant family, loan their tent for Grandpa to rest and as Ma prepares Grandpa for burial, Mrs. Wilson cooks the family diner. More important, Grandpa's death is recorded on a page from Mrs. Wilson's Bible. An even more significant event occurs when the Joads are having a family meeting and Pa calls the Wilsons over to hear their thoughts. When it comes time to continue the journey, the decision is made that the two families will travel as one. Ma agrees, "'Each'll help each, an' we'll all git to California. Sary Wilson he'ped lay grampa out,' and she stopped. The relationship was plain."(Pg.162)
The changing concept of family is most evident at the camps, especially at the government camp. The entire camp was like a family because they set their own rules and ran the camp as they saw fit. Those having a hard time were helped as a matter of course not charity. When it appeared trouble was coming, they all worked together as a unit to defend the camp.
As the book progresses, the changes within the family are characterized differently in each character. Mrs. Joad's primary concern is keeping...