Matriarchy, Patriarchy, And Community: Moving From "I to We" In Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, focuses on the desperate situation of the Joad family and migrant workers after displacement and economic hardship in the wake of the Great Depression. The Grapes of Wrath opens in Oklahoma with the Joads fleeing west from their barren land, in search of jobs and food in California. Moving west, they join a torrent of people who share their situation and are in desperate need of food and shelter. After their arduous trip, the Joads and fellow migrant workers arrive in California where they struggle to find work. When they do find employment, the wages they earn barely provide sustenance. At every turn, the family and workers are exploited and betrayed by a hierarchical social structure—based on private property and patriarchy—that no longer sustains their needs. My intention in this essay is to explore Steinbeck’s critique of this social system and, more specifically, to explore the role of Ma Joad, as she becomes the central vehicle of Steinbeck’s critique.