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Literature: Steinbeck

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Explain how the behavior of the Joads shows Steinbeck’s view of the
responsibility of the individual to society as a whole. Chapter 14 made an
interesting point. At one point in the chapter it was stated that a farmer lost
his farm. As this man’s family picks up their belongings and heads west they
meet up with another family dealing with a similar situation. Now these two
families share a common bond. A brotherhood is forming. This is the catalyst. No
longer is it one farmer saying he lost his land but two farmers united saying
they lost their land. Much the same transformation happens to the Joad family
– especially to the characters of Ma, Young Tom, and Rose of Sharon. At the
onset of the novel we see the Joad family struggling just to keep their
immediate family together. They are focused on just themselves. By the end of
this wonderful book we see the Joad family branching out in many different ways
to embrace all of mankind as one big family. Ma Joad’s main concern at the
beginning of the story is her family. She wants to keep the unit together and
works diligently to achieve this goal. However, one by one, family members leave
the group for various reasons leading to the slow but sure disintegration of the
Joad clan. The first to go is Noah; then Grandpa and Grandma die;Connie walks
off and leaves Rose of Sharon; Young Tom leaves because he has gotten into
trouble again; and Al becomes engaged and decides to go with his fiancee’s
family. Ma deals with each loss as best she can. As the story progresses, we
find Ma Joad becoming more and more concerned with people outside the family
unit. She feels the need to share whatever meager food and belongings her family
has with other families enduring hardships. She saw the needs of her own family
at the beginning of the story and by the end of the novel, she sees the needs of
her fellow man. Young Tom appears to be self-centered when he if first
introduced. He has just left prison after serving four years for murder. Tom
want to enjoy life to the fullest and to be with his family. He is very
disturbed to find the family home deserted and almost destroyed. He by this time
has reacquainted himself with Jim Casey, an ex-preacher. The more Tom listens to
Jim and his views on life, the soul of man, and the fellowship of mankind, the
less he focuses on himself and his needs. He then begins to focus on the plight
and abuse of the homeless farmers. He starts to realize that in order for the
migrant workers to survive and succeed they must unite. He knows that if they
band together as one, they can demand that their God-given rights under the
constitution be honored. They can begin to gain respect from their fellow man.
After Jim is killed, Tom takes up the cause of “his” people. He plans to
work with them. Just as Jim taught him, Tom realizes that man is no good alone
and that every man’s soul is just a piece of a bigger one. Rose of Sharon is
totally focused on herself from the beginning. She is pregnant for the first
time and in love with her husband so her little world is complete. She
constantly bemoans the fact that she needs nutritious food so her baby will be
healthy. She is always concerned that what she does or what others do to her
will hurt her baby in some way. She is so wrapped up in herself and the baby she
is carrying that she does not realize that her family is falling apart. She
whines and moans her way through most of the book until her baby is born dead.
The death of her child seems to transform her. At the very end of the novel she
breast feeds a dying man. To me this is symbolic of drinking from the milk of
human kindness. She gives of herself to save another human being. She too is
learning about the fellowship of man. In conclusion, as the Joad family
seemingly disintegrates, they actually merge in to a larger, more universal
family – the family of man.
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