How does Steinbeck present men in The Grapes of Wrath?

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Steinbeck, a careful linguist, repeats one word in connection with the character of Pa Joad a total of five times in Chapter Eight. This is no accident, but seemingly a deliberate association with the "power" men often exercise in the world:

  • His face, squared by a bristling pepper and salt beard, was all drawn down to the forceful chin, a chin thrust out and built out by the stubble beard which was not so grayed on the chin, and gave weight and force to its thrust.
  • His eyes were brown, black-coffee brown, and he thrust his head forward when he looked at a thing, for his bright dark eyes were failing.
  • Pa's chin thrust out, and he looked back down the road for a moment.
  • The old man thrust out his bristly chin, and he regarded Ma with his shrewd, mean, merry eyes.

The word “thrust” is often used to describe males who are having sex; being able to participate in sexual activity is frequently seen as the mark of a man. Sexual relations, of course, often lead to procreation.

Before Pa must leave his home, he feels in control of his life: virile, able-bodied, and the head of his household. However, just as the tractors churn up the land they claim, social roles are being overturned and upended as well. The more Pa becomes disassociated with the roles he had previously embraced, the more impotent, helpless, and dependent he will become.

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