How does Jean Dewey’s death affect Elsa in The Four Winds?

Elsa is initially hesitant to join her daughter in the push for unionization. However, after witnessing the death of her friend Jean due to lack of medical care, Elsa changes her mind and becomes a leader in the fight for workers' rights.

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In Kristin Hannah's The Four Winds, Jean Dewey serves as an important friend for Elsa and her daughter Loreda when they first move in to the squatters' camp in the San Joaquin Valley. She shares wisdom and advice with the women and helps them navigate a system that inherently disadvantages low-wage workers such as themselves.

When Jean loses a baby in childbirth, Loreda finds motivation to join the local union organizing movement. She is angry at the mistreatment of the workforce and the lack of adequate health services provided to them. In spite of the hardships that they face, Elsa remains opposed to the union movement, claiming that it represents dangerous ideas that could cause trouble for the family. She forbids Loreda from attending the meetings, but her daughter continues to sneak out at night.

Elsa reaches her breaking point, however, when Jean becomes ill with typhoid. Her friend's condition worsens rapidly, and since she is not able to find adequate medical care, Jean succumbs to the disease. This inspires a righteous anger in Elsa; she decides that she can no longer tolerate the injustices levied upon her community and agrees to join her daughter in a strike against their employer. Not only does she join the movement, but Elsa becomes a leader within it, begging her fellow strikers to keep fighting when they are met with police presence.

The death of Jean Dewey clearly serves as the spark that gives Elsa the anger and the courage to speak out against her employer.

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