“Women can change better’n a man,” Ma said soothingly. “Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head.”
“Man, he lives in jerks-baby born an’ a man dies, an’ that’s a jerk-gets a farm and looses his farm, an’ that’s a jerk. Woman, its all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that. We ain’t gonna die out. People is goin’ on-changin’ a little, maybe, but goin’ right on.”
- John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath ch. 28
Whenever I reread a classic I'm struck by how much more I get out of it now than I did when I was in high school and or college. This novel was part of my high school American literature class, but honestly I didn't remember much except that there was a lot of cussing, depressing chapters, and the ending was weird. I simply wasn't ready at age fifteen or sixteen to grapple with the deeper issues addressed by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I feel that I have a better understanding and appreciation of what John Steinbeck was trying to say in this novel.
Because there are thousands of excellent online reviews for The Grapes of Wrath, I don't feel the need to go into depth about the themes, motifs and other things about this novel. Instead I want to share a few thoughts I have about one of my all time favorite female characters - Ma Joad.
Ma Joad is the heart and soul of the book. As the male characters give in to their fear, anger and depression Ma Joad holds them all together with a fierce determination. Without Ma, the Joad family would have fallen apart. She understood the importance of sticking together, working hard and the power of a mother's selfless love. She demonstrated these qualities over and over throughout the novel - Granny's death, protecting Tom at the cotton plantation, and in the families darkest hour towards the end of the novel. I can only hope that Ma Joad's story ended well and that she was able to live out her days happy, well fed and with a roof over her head.