In "The Grapes of Wrath, " please explain Ma's speech about what is happening to the the family when Tom leaves.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ma has worked very hard to keep the family together.  She fears that when Tom leaves, the last vestige of the clan will be severed forever.  Already they have lost Grandma and Grandpa; Connie has taken off, Noah has left for parts unknown:

Ma said angrily, "Tom!  They's a whole lot I don' un'erstan'.      But goin' away ain't gonna ease us.  It's gonna bear us down...They was a time when we was on the lan'.  They was a boundary to us then.  Ol' folks died off, an' little fellas come, an' we always had one thing -- we was the fambly -- kinda whole and clear.  An' now we ain't us no more...We crackin' up, Tom.  There ain't no fambly now."

While Ma laments the loss of all she has known and valued, a few pages later Steinbeck shows that she is a dynamic character, capable of tremendous growth.  Not only does she understand that Tom's departure is necessary, she comes to embrace the "family of man," not just her own kin.  It is Ma who encourages Rose of Sharon to nurse the dying man: 

Ma's eyes passed Rose of Sharon's eyes, and then came back to them...Ma smiled, "I knowed you would.  I knowed." 

Ma, and Rose of Sharon, too, have learned to extend their maternal altruism to the world at large. 

Read the study guide:
The Grapes of Wrath

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