What does the crop of wheat represent for Martha in "A Field of Wheat"?

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For Martha the crop of wheat represents her relationship with and feelings for her husband, John. At the beginning of the story, Martha walks through a field full of wheat, grown higher than her knee and described as the "best crop of wheat that John had ever grown." As she...

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For Martha the crop of wheat represents her relationship with and feelings for her husband, John. At the beginning of the story, Martha walks through a field full of wheat, grown higher than her knee and described as the "best crop of wheat that John had ever grown." As she walks through the field, she lets her hand brush against the stalks and admires the beauty of the golden wheat shimmering in the breeze. In the distance, Martha sees her husband still working hard, and the wheat represents for her the fruition of her husband's work. She admires him for his perseverance and his work-ethic, and is reminded of these qualities by the crop of wheat. As Martha says, "It was John who gave such allure to the wheat."

The wheat, for Martha, also represents a product of her husband's love. He has put all of his love and attention into the fields, trying to cultivate a good crop. In doing so, he has neglected to love his wife. Therefore, Martha thinks of the crop of wheat as a way in which to at least indirectly feel once more the love of her husband. She hopes that this crop will return "perhaps a little of what it had taken from her John, his love, his lips unclenched."

Martha also hopes that the successful crop of wheat will make her husband happy and "young again, (and) lift his head, give him spirit." She hopes that if this crop can make her husband young and happy again, then she will have once more the man that she fell in love with all those years ago.

Martha also sees in the wheat a symbol of endurance and struggle, and, therefore, a symbol also of her relationship with her husband. Just as the wheat must "struggle against wind and insects, drought and weeds" to survive, so too she must struggle against John's remoteness and sadness, in order for their relationship to survive.

At the end of the story, there is a devastating storm which ruins the entire crop, reducing it to "little rags of muddy slime." At this moment the crop of wheat represents what has become of Martha and John's relationship. For so long it has been defined by struggle and endurance, and occasionally it has been defined by hope, but ultimately it has been, like the field of wheat, reduced to nothing.

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Martha is the wife of John, an impoverished farmer who gives all his attention to the wheat fields. For John, the wheat is his life. For Martha, the wheat represents hopes and dreams for a better future, including more financial security and the ability to provide a better future for their children. It signifies a new life in which they will be able to send their children to the school in town so they won't have to continue to lead a harsh farming lifestyle as adults. Unfortunately, a hailstorm destroys the crop, and they are left with nothing. Even though Martha is eager for emotional support and love from her husband, she realizes that she needs to be the strong one when she finds him crying.

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The crop of wheat represents for Martha a promise of financial security and material well-being. Unfortunately for her, it cannot provide her with what she really wants in life, which is love and emotional security. Trapped in a rapidly deteriorating marriage to John, Martha feels increasingly unloved and neglected. The wheat field is an extension of John, and Martha is an extension of John. As the annual harvest is at the mercy of nature, so too is Martha's sense of worth as a wife and mother; the vulnerability of the wheat crop to the uncontrollable forces of nature is paralleled by the chronic insecurity of Martha's existence. She has no control of her life, no way in which she can take control of her own destiny. It's notable that when she does finally break free, the consequences are tragic. We are left with the abiding impression that the identities of rural dwellers are forged by the landscape to such an extent that they cannot truly escape, and that in attempting to do, they are defying the nature by which their whole lives are organized and given shape. 

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