**Disclaimer: This is part of a group readalong, which means if you've never read Grapes of Wrath, this post might resemble hearing only one side of a phone conversation. But maybe you're into that sort of thing? So proceed as you will.**
Steinbeck is doing some pretty fascinating things with gender roles. Right away, he described how the women look to their men to assess how severe a situation is. "Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole" (p. 4). Depression-era women and children depended on their menfolk. This is not news.
|Boom . . . serious picture.|
But THEN Steinbeck subverts that expected framework (and breaks my heart a little) by throwing Ma Joad into the mix.
"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. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. . . . 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." (pp. 79-80; emphasis mine, and also a good candidate for being tattooed somewhere on my person)This paragraph WRECKS me, and I think it's because this is a description of MY mom. (Mom, if you're reading this, this is YOU.) It's beautiful, but it's also tragic, because the STRENGTH and self-denial required by such a "great and humble position in the family" . . . I can't even imagine.
And then there's Granma, who damn near took her husband's butt cheek off with a shotgun, and in so doing earned his admiration . . . because he's impressed by that sort of thing.
And Steinbeck made another nod to changing gender roles when the preacher took over salting the pork, despite Ma's protestations that it's "women's work." The preacher replied, "It's all work. . . . They's too much of it to split it up to men's or women's work" (p. 117). Quite right, Casy, and way ahead of your time.
But the Joads do still observe some gender rules of conduct. For example, even pregnant, Rose of Sharon (WHAT is this name? No one wants to say that whole thing every time.) must ride standing up in the back of the truck because the patriarchs of the family get the honor place beside the driver. And that's just how it is, whether anyone likes it or not.
And now some scattered observations:
1. Steinbeck's tangents about soulless tractors, while beautifully written, seem . . . a little overdramatic?
|Steinbeck: THE MACHINES ARE TAKING OVER.|
2. "A man didn't get enough crop to plug up an ant's ass" (p. 50). This, my friends, is why Steinbeck is one of the greats. Pure poetry.
3. These people live in a HARSH world. This is how you can tell: Pigs get into the house and eat babies, bulls gore men to death over by the barn, women bludgeon solicitors with live chickens, and a man can get 7 years in prison for killing in self-defense.
4. This description of the oldest Joad boy, Noah: "He lived in a strange silent house and looked out of it through calm eyes. He was a stranger to all the world, but he was not lonely" (p. 85). Whoa.
5. Steinbeck's Tom Joad:
"His eyes were very dark brown and there was a hint of brown pigment in his eyeballs. His cheek bones were high and wide, and strong deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves beside his mouth. His upper lip was long, and since his teeth protruded, the lips stretched to cover them, for this man kept his lips closed." (p. 5)Hollywood's Tom Joad:
|Eh, close enough|