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Another one bites the dust

"'They was too old,' he said. 'They wouldn't of saw nothin' that's here. Grampa would a been a-seein' the Injuns an' the prairie country when he was a young fella. An' Granma would a remembered an' seen the first home she lived in. They was too ol'. Who's really seein' it is Ruthie an' Winfiel'.'"
--The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 18, page 230

Chapter 18 was a pretty dramatic chapter; it is roughly halfway through the book and seems to be a major turning point. Both Noah and Granma depart from the family in their own ways. Noah disappears down the river and decides to start a new life. The implications of his name, which associate him with another figure who tried to start life anew amidst water, are pretty interesting. It's like the family is starting to become a sinking ship underneath a whole flood of difficulties. Noah is different from the others because he's slow, or maybe because he's touched by God? Either way, he has a different outlook on things which permits him to strike out on his own and live independently. We could look at Noah as being the poor unhappy one and the rest of the family as being more fortunate for being together, but togetherness is starting to appear overrated. Both Sairy and Granma are sick and holding their families behind. Even though Noah may not have that great of a chance at survival, he still does not have to deal with policemen trying to break up settlements of families by the side of the road. However, Granma's death almost helps the family--when the policemen see Granma's face, they let the family pass without trouble. While Ma is intent on keeping the family together, the family can't help but fall apart and is almost better off in doing so. Steinbeck creates impossible conditions for these characters that are much easier to survive as an individual than as a family. No wonder people look at these "Okies" as subhuman--they are forced to let go of cleanliness and a sense of home and a family just to survive. As the novel progresses, I anticipate the tension between being a family and being an individual will only become greater, and it will become much more difficult to resolve.

Comments (2)

Great points, Matt. I really like how you've seen the opportunity to question a theme the novel has presented quite strongly through Ma -- that the family unit is supreme, and must stick together for survival. (Note that Tom quickly rejected the one-eyed gas station attendant -- he's not so naive that he thinks he can say "yes" to every single person who wants to join up.)

Christopher Dufalla:

I like the view points from your blog,Matt. They made me think more about these struggles.

I suppose that the idea of togetherness within this novel can be likened to a demolition derby car: it comes out strong all in one piece, but after so much abuse the car just begins to fall into fragments, fragments that appear crippled in some manner or another. Noah is pictured as a naive kid who might not make it and Sairy just seems to be slowing down the process as Granma does shortly thereafter until her death.

While togetherness can take flak for being not all that it's cracked up to be, the idea of basic human survival does seem central. The desire to merely live like people is a goal of the Joad family, but they are taking drastic measures with hopes of achieving that goal. It's almost as if they've become exactly what they were trying to prevent themselves from becoming: disjunct and dispensible.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 27, 2009 3:00 PM.

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