Perhaps the most famous example of compassion and indomitable spirit in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath appears in the novel’s final paragraph, in which Rose of Sharon, who has just lost the baby she has been carrying, nurses a stranger who is near death from starvation:
Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There.” Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.
This passage is significant for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It demonstrates Rose of Sharon’s compassion.
- It demonstrates Rose of Sharon’s strength of character.
- It demonstrates Rose of Sharon’s ability to think unconventionally (“outside the box”), especially when another human being’s life is at stake.
- It suggests that Rose of Sharon displays the kind of compassion and indomitable spirit that have been displayed by other members of her family throughout the book.
- It suggests, especially in the final two words, that Rose of Sharon is almost an archetypal figure, similar to the Christian Madonna.
- It suggests Rose of Sharon’s determination, even when the man resists her offer.
- It implies that Rose of Sharon represents an ideal of selflessness and generosity that is crucial to human survival in general.
- It suggests that Rose of Sharon is a kind of symbolic mother, even if she is not yet a mother in the literal sense.
- It suggests that women can be strong in their own ways, and that not just men are capable of strength, courage, and heroism.
- It suggests that Rose of Sharon is a worthy successor to her parents and other members of earlier generations of her family, who have in various ways shown the same kind of compassion and indomitable spirit that she herself displays here.