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Is there a quote in/about The Grapes of Wrath that has to do with the flaw of "caring...

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ms-charleston... | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:22 AM via web

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Is there a quote in/about The Grapes of Wrath that has to do with the flaw of "caring too much about what other people think"?  I can't find it to save my life!

Please provide the quote (if it exists) and give a short explanation.

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:58 AM (Answer #1)

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Interestingly, as a very young man, John Steinbeck was quite concerned about how he would be critically received. Prior to the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's father, Earnest, gave him the following advice:

"You wouldn't be so worried about what others think of you if you realized how infrequently they think of you at all."

Although Earnest said this to his adult son, it must have been family advice that the young writer internalized as he was growing up, for if you look at many of his central characters, they too have to learn not worry about what people think.

For example, in The Grapes of Wrath, as soon as the family moves out of Oklahoma, they encounter prejudice that they had never had to put up with in the past. Tom Joad marvels:

"Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum. Don't mean nothing itself, it's the way they say it."

Ma Joad, the family matriarch, knows that they cannot let the perceptions of others make them feel "little and mean."  Although they are poor, they can be generous. Ma and her family show their character by being kind to the family they meet on the road, even burying their dead. Ma feeds the starving children in one of the camps even though they barely have enough food to feed their own kin.

Had they listened to the opinions of the "masses" calling them dirty and scum, they may well have become dirty and scum. But as Earnest Steinbeck so aptly observed, when the Okies (or whomever) were out of that judgmental person's purview, it's unlikely that those "others" were given much thought at all.

Be who you know yourself to be, not the aspersions that might be cast upon you. This is a running theme throughout Steinbeck's work (think Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men, or the "bums" on Cannery Row, to name just two.)

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