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In Chapter 30, a particularly powerful and significant section of text occurs at the end of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
With all of the loss and the disintegration of the Joad family (immediate and extended), it is difficult to imagine that these people would be able to find anything relatively close to hope on their horizon. This would especially pertain to Rose of Sharon who has just lost her baby. However, it is her willingness to reach outside of her own heartache to another in need that not only saves a life, but gives the novel's ending a sense of hopeful anticipation.
Suddenly the boy cried, 'He’s dyin’, I tell you! He’s starvin’ to death, I tell you.'
'Hush,' said Ma. She looked...at Rose of Sharon huddled in the comfort. Ma’s eyes passed Rose of Sharon’s eyes and then came back to them. And the two women looked deep into each other. The girl’s breath came short and gasping.
She said, 'Yes.'
Ma smiled. 'I knowed you would. I knowed!' She looked down at her hands, tight-locked in her lap.
Rose of Sharon whispered, 'Will-will-you all-go out?' the rain whisked lightly on the roof.
Ma leaned forward and with her palm she brushed the tousled hair back from her daughter’s forehead, and she kissed her on the forehead. Ma got up quickly...
For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still...She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes...He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon...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.
Rose of Sharon has just lost her baby. The trials the family has faced on their journey remind us that it was a miracle she carried the child as long as she did. Now, after such devastation, she is asked to rise about the calamity that surrounds her: to offer a gift that no one else can give while in the midst of her own terrible grief.
With the true spirit of the Joad family, perhaps representative of so many other families like them who journeyed westward to make a new life during the Great Depression, Rose of Sharon pulls herself together and offers survival to a starving man. She was unable to do so for her baby, but she, ironically, is still able to give the gift of life to another of her universal family.
The sense of hope may come from the knowledge that with sacrifice and sympathy for others in need, people like the Joads will overcome despite the toll loss and sacrifice have taken from them, to build a new future not only for themselves, but for America as well.
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