How does the concept of “family” emerge and evolve in the novel?

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fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Family is the central character in The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck begins by showing us how the Joad family, which represent many of the families from Oklahoma, who are struggling to stay together and alive during the Great Depression, are forced to leave their homes and travel to California in a quest for work and happiness, but what they discover on their journey is that the real family is the human family.

In the beginning of the novel Tom Joad is only concerned with himself, but soon becomes concerned with the family, but by the end of the novel he is concerned about the family of mankind; His concern for the family of mankind is best revealed in the following passage:

Tom laughed uneasily. "Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece pf a big one---an' then------"

"Then what, Tom?"

"Then it don' matter.  Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark.  I'll be ever'where----wherever you look.  Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'---I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the house they build---why, I'll be there. See? God, I'm talkin' like Casy. Comes of thinkin' about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes."

Ma Joad in the beginning of the novel is concerned with keeping her family together, but as they travel across Route 66, she begins to become part of the human family, and she reveals her conversion at the end of the novel when she says at first it was the family and now it is just anyone who needs help. This philosophy is very apparent when at the end of the novel the remaining Joad family find a boy and his starving father in a barn during a viscous rain storm. The man hasn't had anything to eat for days, and Ma turns to Rose of Sharon and asks her to breast feed the man, and she does, thus giving life to some unknown starving man, making her a part of the brotherhood of man.

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The Grapes of Wrath

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