The Portrayal of the Joads as Characters of Nobility in John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath
In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck displays the Joads as characters of nobility. Each family member shows an essence of character, courage, generosity, or honor. People who carry the trait of nobility are looked up to. They are the people who change for the best, who attempt many tasks, and who are there for the benefit of others. The will to put aside any desires for another person displays sincere nobility. “When somepin happens that I got to do somepin–I’ll do it” (24) is a confident expression said by a person of generosity and reliability.
Ma Joad displays her nobility through generosity, comfort, and her will to take lead in the family. The role of a mother is known to be the person who maintains the family and keeps optimism alive. “All right. It’s gonna be all right… You know the family got to get acrost. You know that” (225) was said to comfort her worried daughter in that the journey would soon come to an end if they had patience. Ma Joad was often referred to for comfort and support, which shows she put other people’s worries in front of hers. “It ain’t kin we? It’s will we? As far as ‘kin,’ we can’t do nothin’…but as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will” (102) is saying that family is family and nothing can be done about it. It is not whether something is known how to be achieved, but it is the attempt made to achieve it.
The family must have the need, want, and will to overcome any obstacle. Ma Joad believes in her family and that is why they look up to her and honors her dedication to making their lives better. “Don’t you go fightin’ ’em alone…if we was all mad the same way, they wouldn’t hunt nobody down” (77). By staying one unit and not “fightin’ ’em alone,” a family is secure and impenetrable. She knows that the family needs to stick together in order to actually triumph over the worst. Ma’s comfort and perseverance sets an example to the other Joads to obtain the trait of goodness and nobleness.
The same concept of stability and character applies to Jim Casy, showing his nobility. Though he gave up the position of a preacher, he is able to influence the family through his honest thoughts. “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” (23). Casy expresses that actions affect everyone. Good or bad, everyone makes decisions which all have positive or negative consequences. Jim Casy is saying that everyone is equal and everyone plays a role in society.
Relating to Ma’s thoughts of “we’ll do what we will,” it is a matter of choice and through this Casy shows true character of nobility. “I got a feelin’ I got to see them. They gonna need help no preacher can give ’em. When their own spirit is downcast an’ sad they gonna need help. They got to live before they can afford to die” (52) shows Casy’s concern for others and his unselfish behavior also showing his realization that everyone deserves a helping hand and no one deserves to struggle. He is yet another example for people to follow by means of his concern and courage. “Casey said solemnly, ‘I don’t know whether he was good or bad, but that don’t matter much. He was alive, an’ that’s what matters”” (144). Casy sees that life matters no matter who a person is; he defends his fellow man and life itself out of the nobility of his heart and is able to pass on his kindliness.
A person who seems to walk in the footsteps of Jim Casy’s nobility is Tom Joad. He is good-natured and cooperates with the ups and downs in life. Tom does not like to be pressured and feel controlled. “It don’t take no nerve to do some pin when there ain’t nothin’ else you can do” (221). He feels as though people have their own minds and are able to work for him or herself. Tom takes pride in who he is and what he does. He gives off a message that it is important to be generous to others through will, not through force. “I’ll help aroun’ here. We’ll be–together on the road” (85). Tom, like Ma and Casy, wants to make sure the family gets every bit of help and reinforcing that they all need to be together on the road to help one another. He exhibits a unique personality and is willing to set his troubles aside for someone else. “Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.
Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there…An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build–why, I’ll be there” (419). When Tom says this, he does not speak only for himself, but for all the people who were in the same poor state as him and his family. By making references to the fight for food and police aggression, Tom is saying that there were many hard times but people just had to learn to get though them. When he says they will “eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build,” he is assuring triumph and independence after turmoil and despair, displaying his nobility to his family and society.
Initially, Pa appears weak in the role of his family, but he has an inner spirit that drives him to try and maintain leadership, displaying that he is noble in the changes and challenges he must confront. A family always needs someone to lead them; in this case, it was almost a battle of who should take that part. As Pa and Ma dispute, Ma becomes more confident that she is the one with the authority and takes the lead in making the decision whether Casy should leave with the Joads. Pa disagrees with her notion but is fought down and the narrator comments, “he was ashamed” (67). Pa was upset that his own authority had been denied and his spirit was carved into by Ma’s poise. Sadly, Pa suffers in this shame and avoids any more embarrassment.
Ma, however, notices that he allowed himself to fall, and she explains “He’s a’right. He aint beat” (281). She still sees that spirit in Pa, she still sees his nobility in how he is willing to step down for the better of his family. Pa proved that he still has that fortitude when the Joads decide to leave the camp when he exclaims, “We hat to go, folks been so nice ‘ere–but we got to eat” (356). Pa knows that he needs to find work in order to help his family survive. He wanted to stay at the camp, but he wanted the best for his family and put his own wants and needs aside. The will to help another and set aside personal desires displays a noble character. At the end of the book, Pa attempts to protect his family by building a dam to keep the raging waters away. When he had completed that task, the narrator describes Pa to be more confident and notes “Pa laughed in triumph” (397). Pa was stuck with a sudden realization that he was not yet beaten, like Ma had exclaimed before. By building that dam, he built up his confidence. He regained his leadership and his character. The act and struggle that Pa took in order to be a leader mad him think better of himself and taught him that he is truly noble.
Aside from the way of life changing, characters gradually changed in attitude and personality. Rose of Sharon went through a transformation as the novel progressed while becoming nobler to herself and others. Due to her pregnancy, Rose felt as though she and her baby deserved all the attention. “She was pleased with herself, and she complained about things that didn’t really matter…Rose of Sharon was in the middle of [the world] with Connie making a small orbit about her” (129). Women who do carry a child need attention and care, but Rose of Sharon seemed to take advantage of her condition. This showed that Rose was still a child at heart, wanting to be the center of attention. “Me an’ Connie don’t want to live in the country no more” (164) was said during a conversation with her mother.
Ma responds by saying “Ain’t you gonna stay with us–with the family?” (164) showing concern that the connection of the family would be broken if Rose went with the plan to leave and start her own family. Rose did not realize at the time that family is noble in its self and is there for support and the Joads were her life. Giving and accepting life is something very hard to do. Rose grew from a na young-adult to a matured woman. She accepted she was going to give life, but did not accomplish it in such a way as a successful birth. Instead she “sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoisted her tired body up and drew the comfort around her. She moved closely to the corner and stood looking down” (455) at a starving, helpless stranger. She was the key to his life by being able to use her moral, mental, and physical strength for the well being of another. The Rose of Sharon who began as a self-interested girl developed into a generous, courageous, noblewoman. She brought herself up to the level of the other Joads, the platform of nobility, by having the will to change and proving there is hope and spirit in the most unpromising situations.