John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939. It is directly related to the U.S. reality in the 1930s and 1940s in that it is set during the era of Great Depression and describes the plight of poor rural people. It was a book of “reportage and protest” that “earned him an indispensable place in the social conscience of the Depression” (Dickstein 111). The 1930s and especially 1940s were also marked with the growing role of a woman in the society as a result of the economic pressures (Harrison 10). The Grapes of Wrath represents the literature of the 1930s and 1940s in its focus on the dramatic changes within the American society during the times of crisis, and its call for a new thinking. With regard to the dramatic societal changes, a typical theme in the literature of the era, Steinbeck shows the transition of one group in the American society under the pressure of the economic downturn (Steinbeck). The Joads, who were once independent tenant farmers living in security, now face the destiny of migrant workers whose lives depend on the mercy of the rich. The outer change in the status brings about the inner changes within the family structure. This becomes Steinbeck’s call for a new thinking. On the one hand, he calls for a change in the status of a woman. The family changes its patriarchal organization to matriarchal one as Ma assumes leadership. Specifically, she demonstrates her empowerment as a woman leader as she decides to feed the children who starve, as she confronts Pa with a jack handle in Chapter 16 and the Deputy with her skillet in Chapter 18. On the other hand, Steinbeck calls the young generation to step beyond the old thinking of their families and adjust to the challenges within the U.S. society. He does it through the image of Rose, Ma’s eldest daughter, who gives the milk from her breasts to a starving man. Rose rises above the limits of American individualism and accepts the stranger as a human who needs to be saved.
- Dickstein, Morris. “Steinbeck and the Great Depression.” South Atlantic Quarterly 103.1 (2004):
- Harrison, Cynthia. “From the Home to the House: The Changing Role of Women in American
Society.” U.S. Society and Values 2 (1997): 10-13.
- Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Viking, 2014. Print.