An Analysis of the Acts of Kindness in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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As the novel The Grapes of Wrath progresses, the Joads progress from a concern only for themselves and their own personal welfare to a concern for all the people in the world. This is accompanied by the disintegration of the smaller family unit, which is replaced by the larger world family of the migrant people.

This shift from individual thinking to wide spread thinking is most directly seen in the actions of Tom Joad. When we first see him at the beginning of the novel he is mainly concerned for his own welfare. He wants to make up for all the things he missed when in prison. Later on in the novel he is more concerned with the welfare of the family. When we last see him he has shifted to trying to do what is best for all the migrant people by trying to organize them into striking.

That shift in thinking is also accompanied with the replacement of the individual family by the world family. The thing that started the breakup of the individual family was the loss of their land. The family had lived there for many generations and had strong ties to the land. Getting thrown off the land was sort of like losing their family history. This is shown by the things that Ma Joad burns before they left. Next Grampa Joad died because he couldn’t take leaving his home. He is the first family member to leave the family.

At the same time though, the joining with the Wilsons shows that the larger world family of the migrant society is replacing the individual family. Chapter seventeen is one of the general chapters that shows the growth of the new migrant society that has it’s own laws and leaders. At the boarder of California, they loose Noah when he refuses to leave the river, and have to leave the Wilsons behind because of Sairy’s illness. Then Granma dies on the way across the desert. The Joads have to leave her for a pauper’s burial. This shows the disintegration of the families standards. Previous to this the Joads had always paid their own way and never asked for charity.

In chapter twenty the family looses both Connie and Casy. The growth of the world family is shown when Ma shares her food with the other people’s children. When they get to the government camp, there is a brief respite from the breakup of the family. They are finally getting treated like humans again. Towards the end of the novel the family disintegrates more with the loss of Tom and engagement of Al. Now Ma realizes that the family doesn’t come first anymore when she said to Mrs. Wainwright that the family used to come first but now it’s just anyone who needs help.

One of the ironies of the book was that, as Ma Joad said, “If your in trouble or hurt or need — go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help the only ones.”(pg 335) The irony is that if you need something you have to go to the people who have nothing.

There are many examples of this in the book. The first example of this is at the truck station in chapter 15 when the restaurant owner and waitress give the family bread at a discounted rate, and candy two for a penny when it is actually nickel candy. The truck drivers then leave large tips to the waitress. Neither the truck driver nor the restaurant owner and waitress are very rich but they are generous anyway. In chapter seventeen the person at the car dump gives Tom and Al things for way discounted rates.

Ma Joad is also an example of this. The Joads are poor and yet they give what little they have to the children who need it. They also stay and help the Wilsons when it just slowed them down. Another example is when the small landowner that Tom first gets work warns them of the plot of the Farmer’s Association to raid the government camp. The clerk in the company store in chapter twenty-four is also generous, lending Ma ten cents so that she can get sugar for the coffee.

These acts of generosity are contrasted to how the rich people are trying to rip off the migrants. Chapter seven shows how the car dealer rips the people off by selling them pieces of junk for high prices. They use cheep tricks such as pouring sawdust into the gears or transmission to cut down the noise of the car and hide problems. They take advantage of the tenant farmers ignorance of cars and interest rates to make a profit. Chapter nine shows how junk dealers bought all the things from the tenant farmers at a very low price. The farmers have to leave and can’t take the stuff with them, so they take advantage of the fact that the farmers have no choice but to sell them at whatever price they name. Chapters nineteen, twenty-one, and twenty-five are general chapters that show how the large land owners are cheating the migrants and smaller land owners to make a larger profit.

They show how the landowners hire guards and lowered the wages to break their spirit and keep them from organizing. We see through the Joad’s experiences that the owners would cut the wages because they knew the people were starving and that they were hungry enough to take any wage. Meanwhile they dumped or burned excess food to keep the prices high and put guards around them to keep the migrants from getting them. The company store also tries to rip the migrants off by charging extra for things because it costs gas to go to the nearest town. Through out the novel, the acts of kindness by poor people are contrasted to the greed and meanness of the rich.


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An Analysis of the Acts of Kindness in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. (2023, Jan 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/an-analysis-of-the-acts-of-kindness-in-the-grapes-of-wrath-by-john-steinbeck/

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