In the novel, Steinbeck skilfully creates a complex communal structure, through which the genders are portrayed. This community has a harsh and realistic nature. Many tragedies and disappointments threaten the family as they move through life, Tom kills a man and goes to prison, Rose of Sharon loses her husband and her baby, and the grandparents die. However Steinbeck's sense of community is proved to be strong, when the individual characters can overcome their losses through the support of the group. Ma herself says' What we got lef' in the worl'? Nothin' but us... I ain't scared while we all here...'
[...] ' Also we can see this in the case of the grandparents. When Granmpa dies, Granma soon follows him, as if they needed each other to stay strong. ' They fought over everything, and loved and needed the fighting.' Steinbeck's attitude toward gender within The Grapes of Wrath is a interesting one. He seems to create characters symbolically, using them to recreate particular themes that run through the novel. Rose of Sharon in her fading youth, and lost voluptuousness is the essence of nostalgia for the old land, and Granmpa represents the death of the old land and its ways. [...]
[...] However, unlike Ma they lack the power of these three images. Ruthie is too mean at times to represent the innocent joy that Ma has, [p.332 the incident at the croquet court], Rose of Sharon has neither the strength nor protective instinct of Ma as a mother, [ p.335, lets herself and her unborn child be bullied by Mrs. Sandry], and Granma does not have the clarity and leadership that Ma has as the matriarchal crone. Instead, these women represent different themes. [...]
[...] She is the maid in her vitality, her innocent joy, 'it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.' Ma is the mother, in her nurturing of the family, her calmness and serenity, and her leadership. Ma is also the crone, an aspect described by Shahrukh Hussain as 'detached . for the common good . Steinbeck describes Ma in much the same manner, ' She had become as remote and faultless in her judgment . ' Hussain believes the crone to be a guardian of death, seeing others out of this world and into the next. [...]
[...] Steinbeck has created a symbolic version of reality, in which these character only have room to act a certain way. Although the men represent a kind of strength, it is not the same as the female strength of Ma that bends and overcomes disaster, but a brittle kind, like the temperamental cars of the roads. When tragedy comes to the Joads, it's the men that break first. Some such as Noah and Connie, who desert, and some like Tom and Pa who talk of dividing the family up to go on to California, [p.177]. [...]
[...] Certainly the pace of the novel reiterates this rawness, with its bold rhythmic style and sometimes aggressive political attitudes, expressed mostly in brief but ruthless chapters, such as chapter 21. Here Steinbeck shows us the fear that was spreading across his American landscape, the fear of starvation of the migrants, the fear of the men of property, terrified they would lose this land, the hostility and fermenting anger. ' . the fear of hunger and the hunger itself changed them.' These brief, energetic chapters are interspersed between long, slower paced narrative sections, that develop character and plot. [...]
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