The Importance of Family in Times of Hardship

In the novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck makes many commentaries about the importance of the family. The Grapes of Wrath follows the story of the Joads during the Dust Bowl, who decide to move to California after being evicted off their farm. Throughout their journey, the Joad family weakens, but also becomes stronger in ways. During this time, the family undergoes a few significant changes. The family dynamic changes from a patriarchal structure to matriarchal, and many members of the family end up deserting the Joads and going off on their own. John Steinbeck believed that family, although not necessarily biological, is the most critical factor in determining success during a time of hardship.

The most important observation Steinbeck makes about the family unit is that in times of need, it must grow to include people who are not biologically related. This is demonstrated multiple times in the book. In chapter 17, Steinbeck describes how the lines blur and all of the families merge into one, “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream" (193). These families all do whatever they can to help their neighbors and friends, because more than likely, they have been in the same position before. Before the Joads reach California, they meet the Wilsons. Although neither family is very well off, they all help each other whenever possible. This empathy is also shown when the Wainwrights, the Joads neighbors in the freight car, help with Rose Of Sharon’s delivery.

Wherever the Joads travel, they are constantly helping the people they meet, always adding to their extended family. Rebecca Hinton shared this same opinion when she wrote, “ Steinbeck implies that in times of social upheaval, the family cannot remain a self-contained conjugal unit; it must expand to include members related by plight as...