THE EXTENDED FAMILY: A SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND HOPE
In his books Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck captured the reality of the struggles that struck mankind in different forms and in various levels as he had observed during his lifetime. Steinbeck observed mainly Californians and migrants who had suffered from poverty and distress brought to them by the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the dust storm that brought drought to the Great Plains during 1932 to 1939. He began to write books to sympathize with and encourage the many downtrodden people whom he had watched.
Steinbeck suggested a method of comfort and relief to those who were alone and suffering; he discussed the significance that an extended family has in providing its constituents the strength to cope with their economic insecurities and social problems.
Due to the Dust Bowl and the Depression that hit the United States in the thirties, many Oklahomans experienced a sudden abandonment from their landlords.
Since most Oklahomans were farmers, many were left jobless once they were kicked off their land. For the sake of survival, this economic catastrophe resulted in two different cases of reactions: that of Muley Graves and that of the Joads.
Steinbeck introduced a character, Muley Graves, who became a beggar because he was too attached to the land to leave and too independent to abide with his family that had left, travelling to California. Too stubborn to budge, Muley just scowled, “If they throw me off, I’ll come back… I ain’t a –goin’…An’ I ain’t a-going” while remanding behind by the land that no longer was under his family control or estate, eating wild animals to survive. However, a different mentality of the farmers was shown through the Joads. When their land was taken away, for the sake of survival, Joads did not hesitate to leave their land at once: their “houses were left vacant on the land, because… only the tractors…were alive.”
When many other Oklahomans were out of work, out of place to live, and out of food to eat, people began to migrate to California in large numbers. Just as the Graves family had left, the Joads followed the promise of an ad for work, which publicized “800 pickers wanted” to California. Many other families, such as the Wilsons family joined the Joads in the popular migration movement to California.
However, when the Joads traveled on Route 66, they were faced with only discouragement that lowered their level of expectations about California. Steinbeck foreshadowed this economic situation in a returning migrant’s comment that California was no longer “big… big enough…for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men…for hunger and fat.” Once they reached California, the Joads were unable to find work, like many other families in California, because they did not know where to begin their new life in a foreign land with little opportunity available. Until the Joads were able to find a place to work, they had camped in Hoovervilles.
Gradually, the Joads found themselves in government ran camps and a government run ranch. Even after reaching the point of finding a ranch to pick fruits, the Joads found themselves with low wages, which were half the announced wage, due to the overabundant amount of workers.
These economic afflictions were followed directly by social recessions. The Dust Bowl had a great impact on the social and the psychological aspect of the farmers, because for a farmer to depart from their land was a death-like experience at the time. Muley Graves stayed with his land, even when it meant that he was to be a beggar. In like manner, Grampa “died the minute we took ‘im off the place” for he was too bounded to the land, for “he was that place, an’ he knowed it.”
From Grampa’s death to the Mrs.Wilson’s death, the death in a family brought about unplanned changes or shifts of roles in the family structure. Death of Grampa expedited the death of Gramma; and the passing away of the two ended the older generation of the Joads and gave the younger generations the definite responsibility to lead the family and the adopted family members such as Casy and the Wilsons. Moreover, an unseen death in Rose of Sharon’s miscarriage brought sadness as well as a spontaneous change to her personality. However, when Mrs. Wilson was close to her deathbed, the Wilsons discontinued their journey and returned home, forcing them to impede their vision to go to California.
While some were able to endure even through the death of her child, some migrants were unable to endure through the challenges, and ended up giving up or leaving the family. Noah’s fear of starving kept him by the river, where a “fella can’t starve beside a nice river.” Although Noah Joad was one family member who was unnoticeably quiet, his leaving contributed to the breakdown of the family. His departure was extremely untimely, adding onto the chaos that already existed due to the sheriff warning against Ma to leave, Gramma’s extreme sickness, and Sairy’s deathly illness. Connie, likewise, left the family at a malapropos time, when Casy was taking Tom’s place to go to the jail and when Rose of Sharon had just lost a baby. His departure added to the breakdown of the family, and to the despondency of his wife, Rose of Sharon.
Not only did many individual persons have a social impact on the other migrants or the family, few organizations and their corruptness were responsible for most workers’ distresses. As for the Sheriff’s lying characters, such as attempting to arrest Floyd, an innocent worker, and arrest anybody in place of Tom, demonstrated how untrustworthy the county organizations were. Moreover, the employer’s deceitful advertisement and contradicting wages to the advertised wages caused Casy and Tom to be strike-leaders and many workers to partake in a strike movement.
Regardless of the adversities, the migrants found strength in the extended family that began to take shape as the Joads family began to dissipate. When Grampa passed away, the Wilsons joined the Joads. This represented the breakdown of the Joads family, to be replaced by the extended family of migrants. The growth of the extended family became far more evident when the children at the Weedpatch camp, other migrants, and ranch workers united after Noah, Gramma, and the Wilsons had departed the family.
As the extended family continued growing, it was essential to be part of the extended family for people needed each other and needed to help one another in every step of the way. The Joads were the assistance that the Wilsons needed to go on with the journey. The Joads provided a ride, food, and comfort to the Wilsons who were in worse situation than they were in. Steinbeck showed people’s dependence on others’ help in vast amount of examples: Mrs. Wainwright helped Rose of Sharon in her childbirth; Ma shared food with the other people’s children at the Weedpatch camp; Casy rescued Tom by going to jail in his place. Nonetheless, the genuine love and support that the member of extended family provides for the fellow members was manifested when Rose of Sharon offered her breast milk to a dying stranger.
However, through Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck showed how the extended family could be a source of strength in socioeconomic despairs by giving a counter example of how people did not manage to overcome their problems apart from the extended family. The setting of Of Mice and Men was very similar to that of Grapes of Wrath, the depression during nineteen-thirties in California, a time when everyone suffered from economic and social predicaments.
During the Depression, many were unable to accomplish their dreams because the Great Depression was a source of “economic climate in which the achievement of that dream [the American Dream] seemed more remote than ever for many.” It was extremely difficult to carry out one’s dreams because saving up of money was a difficult task. In George and Lennie’s case for example, they were being constantly kicked off of several ranches because of Lennie’s many irrational actions such as padding a woman’s dress. In the beginning of the novel, George and Lennie were running away from a town called Weeds, once again, for absurd actions of Lennie. Being constantly tossed from one ranch to another, they were not able to save up any money.
In a different manner, other men did not save up money because they would waste their money in whorehouses and bars during their Saturday nights. The life of a ranch worker during his free spare time was shown in the conversations exchanged between George and Whit:
Whit said, “…you ought ta come in town with us guys tomorra night.”
“Jus’ the usual thing. We goin’ to old Susy’s place…got five girls there.”
“What’s it set you back?” George asked.
…“Come along, it’s a hell of a lot of fun–.”
Despite the money spending that inhibited the workers from saving the money, the working conditions and wages were terrible at the time. Because there were so many migrants entering California on a daily basis, the number of unemployment skyrocketed. As the competition for the job became fiercer, the owners lower the wages nearly to starvation levels because they still found takers for the most wretched of jobs.
Furthermore, Steinbeck placed his Of Mice and Men characters in social dilemma quite different from the social recession that resulted due to economic depression in Grapes of Wrath. The social insecurities of the characters in Of Mice and Men were due to the characters’ own traits and personalities. Crooks’ loneliness and isolation was due to his non-socializing character. He felt intimidated by other peoples’ accompany for he was the “Negro stable buck”. Candy’s loneliness was due to his old age, physical challenges, and lack of a family. Theses two characters were thrust into a conflict with the social structure and were discriminated for their misfit.
Curley’s wife, on the other hand, was not a misfit of the social structure like Crooks and Candy. She was a sad and a lonely character because of her misfortune with men. She married a man who was notably overprotective and jealous, someone who she did not love. The kind of loneliness that she had from having no luck with love or men drove Curley’s wife to be seductive and provocative in her ways.
She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters….
“Oh!” She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the doorframe so that her body was thrown forward.”
Curley’s wife, Candy, and Crook could have all overcome their loneliness and despondency if they belonged to a family or had a friend like Lennie had Geroge. Despite Lennie’s inability to control his physical strength and his stupidity, Lennie was not lonely because of his friend George. As George once told Lennie,
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place… With us it ain’t like that. We got future. We got somebody to talk to… that gives a damn about us…
Lennie broke in. “But not us…Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you…”
Only relevant form of unit that existed on the ranch was the friendship between George and Lennie. For reasons of escape from despair and happiness, the other characters desired to be part of George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm, a place of their own. Candy desired to settle down and to be acquainted, Crooks wanted to be accepted and to belong, and Curley’s wife wished to be associated. On their farm, in the extended family, the characters would have found their economic freedom, their elated fraternity, and their fulfilled dreams.
Not only did Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife needed to be part of George and Lennie’s dream, but George and Lennie needed other’s help for the economical reasons. Under George’s estimation, George and Lennie needed about $600 in order to buy a small farm. Since George and Lennie did not have any money saved up, they were forced to depend on others for financial aid, especially that of Candy’s.
Although it could have been achieved, the dream failed because the extended family was not created. George did not allow anybody on the farm to partake in the fraternity and the friendship that he and Lennie shared. Those, such as Candy, who provided a means of service or an aid, partook in the dream of owning a small farm. However, hindering person, such as Curley’s wife, could not share the dream. Because every member of the ranch community could not work together in unison and accord, they struggled and faced conflicts in trying to accomplish their goals. No one took care of one another when what most characters wanted and needed was to belong to a family.
Forming of the extended family became more challenging when Lennie accidentally killed Curley’s wife, however. This action immediately led to the killing of Lennie by George, which destroyed the core elements of the unit. The dream, perhaps, still could have continued if the extended family continued by method of replacing the lost members as in Grapes of Wrath. When Candy mentioned to George the idea of continuing the dream, George seemed not to hear nor care. This ended Of Mice and Men with unaccomplished dreams, and an undeveloped extended family.
Steinbeck depicted how extended family served as a source of hope and strength in time of economical and social difficulties through the characters’ relationships to one another and to their surroundings in Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. He believed in the idea that universe had a unity of its own, that there existed a “natural evolution from people to group, because it was a tactic, not a fundamental change.” Although the process was difficult, for his characters to belong to a particular group was a necessity. For this reason, those who abide in the extended family found the hope and the strength such as in Grapes of Wrath, yet those who failed to partake in the extended family found only discouragement and despondency such as in Of Mice and Men.
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