Time and again in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck demonstrates the profound ties and nuanced relationships that develop through kinship, friendship, and group identity. The arc of the Joad family shows, on one hand, a cohesive unit whose love and support of one another keeps them from abandoning hope. On the other hand, however, the novel shows that this unity comes with complications. Ma Joad’s assertive leadership strips Pa of his masculine identity, and he is ashamed and embarrassed whenever his wife’s determination forces him to back down in front of the entire clan. The cooperation and mutual assistance found in the Joad family extends past blood relationships to other Okies as well. This give-and-take of friendly support among the Okies is essential to all of the Okies' survival, including the Joads. Just as Wilkie Wallace helps Tom find work, the Joads are happy to assist friends they meet on their way to California, like the Wilsons.
On a larger scale, a united community confers its own kind of benefits: political strength. On several occasions, Tom marvels at how the government camp can function without police. The camp’s Central Committee is a testament to the power of cooperation; its system of self-governance allows residents to regulate themselves and discipline wrongdoers without sacrificing the camp’s independence. Working together not only gives Okies a way to avoid the prejudice they meet in California—it also gives them power to unionize and push for reasonable wages. Despite the vicious persecution of union leaders, many Okies remain committed to the concept of working together to improve their condition. As an endorsement of collaboration, Steinbeck writes, “here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep…men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. … The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.”
Family, Friendship, and Community ThemeTracker
Family, Friendship, and Community Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath
Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.
“I says, ‘Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin’ the hell out of ourselves for nothin’.’…Before I knowed it, I was sayin’ out loud, ‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say.’”
“maybe it's all men an’ all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit—the human sperit—the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent—I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.”
“I ain’t sayin’ I’m like Jesus…But I got tired like Him, an’ I got mixed up like Him, an’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff…Sometimes I’d pray like I always done. On’y I couldn’ figure what I was prayin’ to or for. There was the hills, an’ there was me, an’ we wasn’t separate no more. We was one thing. An’ that one thing was holy.”
To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.
“It ain't kin we? It's will we?” …As far as ‘kin,’ we can’t do nothin’, not go to California or nothin’; but as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’—it’s a long time our folks been here and east before, an' I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.”
The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.
Fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.
Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other…the danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.
At first the families were timid in the building and tumbling worlds, but gradually the technique of building worlds became their technique. Then leaders emerged, then laws were made, then codes came into being. And as the worlds moved westward they were more complete and better furnished, for their builders were more experienced in building them.
“They's a time of change, an' when that comes, dyin' is a piece of all dyin', and bearin' is a piece of all bearin', an bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing. An' then things ain't lonely any more. An' then a hurt don't hurt so bad, cause it ain't a lonely hurt no more, Rosasharn. I wisht I could tell you so you'd know, but I can't.”
And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
“We ain’t never had no trouble with the law. I guess the big farmers is scairt of that. Can’t throw us in jail—why, it scares ‘em. Figger maybe if we can gove’n ourselves, maybe we’ll do other things.”
“They're gettin' purty mean out here. Burned that camp an' beat up folks. I been thinkin'. All our folks got guns. I been thinkin' maybe we ought to get up a turkey shootin' club an' have meetin's ever' Sunday.”
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
“But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn' think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone.”
And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right—the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.
Tiny points of grass came through the earth, and in a few days the hills were pale green with the beginning year.