More Options, but Still Limited...

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"The coffee machine spurted steam, and the waitress, without looking, reached behind her and turned it off." (Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; chapter 2, page 8)

I chose to take a look at this quote because upon reading it, I was immediatley reminded of Treadwell's Machinal. While the roles and views of women are definitely not the focus of The Grapes of Wrath, I believe these elements are embodied in this quote. The fact that the waitress could operate this machine "without looking" demonstrates the role it plays in her daily activities. Even in the 1930s, machines were an intergral part of life. Waitressing seems like an ideal job in some respects; basically, be friendly, serve promptly, and earn tips. The instant gratification of earning tips after every shift is especially alluring. However, this profession also reveals the limited options available to women at the time. This quote also has some staying power. I think waitressing is still a job not necessarily of choice, but mostly of necessity, and still predominantly occupied by women. While women today definitely enjoy more options, such circumstances as lack of education can subject women to the same shallow pool of options. In these situations, waitressing does not seem so ideal. In fact, I am reminded frequently by my elder co-workers of the importance of an education. "You don't wanna be stuck here working all these years like us," they constantly remind me.


It's definitely interesting to observe the gender relationships in this novel. Ma repeatedly defers to the men in the family to make the important decisions. When Jim Casy asks if he can go with them, she gives Tom a chance to speak, even though you might think that since Ma is the elder member of the family she would be the one to assume the responsibility of making a decision. But it's not like she doesn't still have power in the family structure. She's the one who shames Pa into allowing Casy to travel with them, in sort of a passive aggressive way, but still powerful nevertheless. Gender roles are certainly very rigid, though; when Casy offers to salt down the meat, Ma's very insistent that it's "women's work." I wonder if these gender roles might break down any as the Joads go on their journey and have to make tough decisions...

Alicia Campbell said:

The gender relationships are very interesting. Another interesting point involves the part where Uncle John takes the seat in the truck next to the driver, but he is disturbed by this: He would much rather offer his seat to Rose of Sharon, who is pregnant, but "she was young and a woman." This passage demonstrates the superiority of men and elders. There is also a passage in the chapter featuring the car salesmen, that says if a woman looks interested, then her husband could be convinced to purchase. This also suggests that women exercise some influnce, Like Ma.

Nikita McClellan said:

I find it interesting that you pointed out the gender roles because I did as well. I actually wrote about the part with Uncle John and Rose of Sharon. It is interesting to think that that time truly was not as far back as we tend to think it is either. We still have people who are alive from that time period and yet, so much has changed in the way of gender roles and leadership status of a family member. It really show how quickly a culture can change its views.

Alicia Campbell said:

It is almost as if, at this time, you could see women knowing the should conform to these gender roles, but at the same time pushing the boundaries. Matt mentioned Ma's tendency to defer important decisions to the men of the family. But, Ma's perspective is valid and valuable and is definitely considered in making these decisions.

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