Throughout "The Grapes of Wrath," Ma holds the family together. After the men return from selling everything they can, the family
met at the most important place, near the truck. The house was dead, and the fields were dead; but this truck was the active think, the living principle.
As the men squat near it, the women stand with their hands on their hips behind them. Steinbeck writes that Grampa "was still the titular head, but he no longer ruled....His position was honorary." As the men debate about feeding an "extra mouth" in Jim Casy, the preacher, a determined Ma says that they will not turn him away, for no Joad has been that mean:
As far as 'kin,' we can't do nothin', not go to Clifornia or nothin'; but as far as 'will,' why, we'll do what we will.
The group waits for Ma whenever she goes somewhere, "for Ma was powerful in the group." As the family travels down Route 66, Sharon tells her mother that she and Connie, her husband, do not want to work in the fields. Upset, Ma tells Sharon, "It ain't good for folks to break up." Then, when the Wilson's vehicle breaks down, Mr. Wilson tells Pa that he and his wife will stay behind. However, Ma stoutly states,
I ain't a-gonna go....On'y way you gonna get me to go is whup me...All we got is the family unbroke.
This insistence upon keeping the family together, this insistence on the importance of community is what unifies all the workers; it expresses Steinbeck's belief in socialism, the community of man. Underscoring this concept, Steinbeck has Ma promising the father of the girl that her son Al has been "walking with" each night: "We'll try an' see that we don't put no shame on you." And, in the final chapter, Ma urges Rose of Sharon to share her breast milk with a starving man who has sacrificed his food so his son can eat. "I knowed you would! I knowed!" Ma says to her daughter.
When Tom must run from the police after the sacrificial death of Jim Casy, knowing Ma's insistence upon family and the belief in the community of man, he returns to his mother and tells her,
I'll be around 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 a cop, I'll be there....And when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build--why I'll be there.