The Importance of Family Unity as Portrayed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”

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Throughout history, humans have depended on one another for survival. Although some argue for the importance of self-sufficiency, most recognize that genuine prosperity can only be achieved through the collective assistance and backing of their community. In his book The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck effectively illustrates how human unity is vital in guaranteeing survival.

Steinbeck emphasizes the importance of family unity in the novel, particularly in relation to survival. In chapter sixteen, Ma Joad further emphasizes this concept and opposes the idea of the family separating, even for a short period of time. Ma Joad states,

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All we have is the unbroken family. Just like a herd of cows, when the wolves are roaming, we stick together. I am not afraid as long as we are all here, all living. I will not allow us to break apart. The Wilsons are here with us, and the preacher is also with us. I can’t say anything if they want to leave, but I will go crazy with this piece of bar-am if my own family breaks up. (Chapter 16, Page 231)

Here, Steinbeck clearly emphasizes the importance of unity for survival. In the book, the migrant lifestyle depicted showcases how the traditional biological family, without a fixed home, quickly becomes obsolete as new connections and kinships must be established to survive life on the road. This phenomenon is observed when the Joads encounter the Wilsons. Despite a short period of time, the two groups unite and share each other’s hardships, dedicating themselves to each other’s survival.

Steinbeck once again demonstrates his belief in the transformative influence of family and community as he showcases the Joads and other families residing in the government camp Weedpatch. This setting allows readers to witness the convergence of migrant workers into a cohesive, extended family unit. The welfare of the collective group takes precedence over individual needs.

“Twenty families merged into a single family with children belonging to everyone. The feeling of losing their homes became a collective sorrow, and the cherished memories of the prosperous time in the West were shared as a common dream.”

According to Ma, the family used to come first, but that is no longer the case. Now, it is anybody. As we become worse off, we have more responsibilities to fulfill (Steinbeck 569).

The novel emphasizes the significance of unity among migrant workers for their survival on a larger scale. At the end of the story, farmers realize that their strength lies in their numbers, creating a challenge for landowners and the socio-economic system. They begin to acknowledge the potential impact they could have if they united and fought for their rights as both humans and Americans. Tom Joad understands this power and tries to rally his fellow migrant farmers. As Tom gradually realizes, all people are part of his community.

Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be here.

Whenever a police officer is assaulting someone, I will be present. If Casey is aware, then I will be present in the manner in which men shout when they are angry, and I will be present in the way children laugh when they are hungry and know that dinner is ready. And when our people consume the food they cultivate and reside in the homes they construct – well, I will be there (Steinbeck 537).

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The Importance of Family Unity as Portrayed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. (2022, Dec 28). Retrieved from

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