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Rose Knows All

“. . . Tom said, ‘Well, I see you been busy.’
She looked down. ‘You do not see, not yet.’
‘Ma tol’ me. When’s it gonna be?’
‘Oh, not for a long time! Not till nex’ winter.’
Tom laughed. ‘Gonna get ‘im bore in a orange ranch, huh? In one a them white houses with orange trees all aroun’.’
Rose of Sharon felt her stomach with both her hands. ‘You do not see,’ she said, and she smiled her complacent smile and went into the house.”
~pages 134-35 from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

There is something mysterious about the character Rose. It is interesting how Steinbeck appears to use this character to foreshadow coming events. I’ve never read this book before, but I have a vague idea of what happens later in the novel.

The quote Steinbeck repeats through Rose, “You do not see,” along with the original addition of “not yet,” in and of itself appears to have a double meaning. There is the surface meaning that Tom Joad takes the first time around—that she is referring to her pregnancy—but there is another level to that as well. What is unclear is what this hidden meaning could possibly be.

The way I personally took it was, as mentioned before, as foreshadowing. Steinbeck also writes earlier on page 134 that she smiles her “wise . . . smile.” It is always possible that Steinbeck is playing on the infamous woman’s intuition that is often present. Taking what we know thus far from what we’ve read and what is written within this passage, it is likely that “‘Well, I see you been busy’” could be taken to be a reference to the move the Joad family is forced to make and possibly also any troubles that they run into—such as the car trouble hinted at towards the end of the assigned reading. The next time Steinbeck writes the words “You do not see,” is immediately after he has the character Tom make a reference to a potential location in California. When taken in this context, it seems as if she is hinting that this seeming certainty will never be. Something else is in store for their future.

Also, Steinbeck never has either character state anything about the baby. It is merely assumed that the entire conversation is about that. Within the text, Tom most likely is referring to the baby, but, despite the later reference that “Rose of Sharon felt her stomach with both her hands,” there is nothing that clearly indicates that the character Rose is also on this same topic, merely that she understands that he is. Steinbeck could have her entire end of the conversation be on an entirely different track, it is so vague. What is really going to happen next winter? Is it really going to just be that she has the baby, or will it be something else?

What it really comes down to, is I think it is interesting at this point that Steinbeck seemingly used this minor character to set an alert in the readers’ minds that all is not and will not be as it seems.

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Comments (3)

Alyssa Sanow:

After reading your blog, Rose of Sharon's character does seem somewhat peculiar. I hadn't noticed this the first time I was reading. After reading your blog, I re-read that section and she does seem like she knows something everyone else doesn't. As readers, we should definitely read closely to all Rose's comments as the story unfolds - they may foreshadow what lies ahead for the Joad's. Another interesting note is that Rose doesn't say much, but what she does say seems very important. Her future comments should be hard to miss.

Georgia Speer:

Jen, I hope I didn’t miss the mark on your comments but I did not pick that out originally on this section. I took it that Tom and her were just speaking of her pregnancy. But after seeing your comments and re-reading this section I can see where you find these points by Steinbeck. To your points, I think that Steinbeck does elude a sense of mystery in Rose of Sharon that is presented by her actions and words that there is more to come, but what exactly?
I believe Steinbeck also proves that Rose of Sharon is dainty, but powerful. Take for instance her name, Rose of Sharon, this unique name symbolizes a rose, which is dainty, delicate, round and soft. All of which Steinbeck uses to describe her on page 136, “and Rose of Sharon behind, walking daintly” and also on page 129, “her round soft face, which had been voluptuous and inviting a few months ago, had already put on the barrier of pregnancy, the self-sufficient smile, the knowing perfection look…her whole body had become demure and serious.” The use of the word “knowing” in relation to her look in this section sends out a message that she has a way of knowing of such things to come. And could the word “serious” also set the tone of what that might be. The word balanced is used several times by Steinbeck to describe her, page 129, “and she balanced, swaying on the balls of her feet,” and also again on page 129 “she balanced on her toes now, for the baby’s sake”, and finally on page 129 as well, “There was a balanced, careful wise creature who smiled shyly but very firmly at him.”
Steinbeck also eludes that she is of nobility, he references on page 129, “Her hair braided and wrapped around her head, made ash-blond crown.” Also on page 134, Steinbeck states, “Connie Rivers lifted the high tail-gate out of the truck and got down and helped Rose of Sharon to the ground; and she accepted it nobly, smiling her wise, self-satisfied smile, mouth tipped at the corners a little fatuously.” And another reference on page 134 as well, “This is Connie, my husband.” And she was grand, saying it.
The woman’s intuition I believe hits right on as to Steinbeck’s foreshadowing, because for the character Rose of Sharon being pregnant all of these pieces above can also be interpreted that her sense of intuition is heightened due to her pregnancy.
As to what will happen next winter, could it be a death? As in Foster’s chapter 20, page 183, “In fact, our responses are so deeply ingrained that seasonal associations are among the easiest for the writer to upend and use ironically.” As well as in Foster’s chapter 20, page 178, “winter with old age and resentment and death.”
I agree that Steinbeck opens our minds through the character Rose of Sharon that there is more to it than what the story is showing at this time.

Christopher Dufalla:

This ambiguity of Steinbeck's is a new brand of style within his story. As I read this passage, I found myself rereading it and wondering just what was taking place in the conversation. Having read your viewpoints, Jen, it took me down a new avenue of thought. What if Steinbeck is foreshadowing a twist? Perhaps he is letting us know that things are not always as they seem. Deception can be a valuable tool, as can ambiguity. Within this passage, Steinbeck writes so that Rose does seem to be privy to something more than that of her fellow travelers. It will be exciting to see just what that is.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 19, 2009 12:28 PM.

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