In the adverse era of the 1930s, it was not uncommon for the traditional role of a family to alter with the intention of guarding against a harsh reality, rather than provide a connection with it. Along with the tragedies of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, many families were forced to see beyond the bonds of genetics, and embrace new family-ties found within others of a similar circumstance. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses paralleled structure and a bit of an allusion to illustrate the adaptable nature of family, to construct a theme of strength found through unity.
The Grapes of Wrath is the narrative journey of one migrant family headed west as they depart Oklahoma, arrive in an unsympathetic California, and eventually settle in amongst others as unwelcome as they. With Toms return from prison in chapter 8, the Joad family is united once again, though at the same time we see them to be entirely isolated from the rest of the migrants. From here, the family was not much more than a tight cluster of complete individuals held together by fierce commitment, loyalty and perhaps above all, Ma Joad. Right from her introduction, Ma emerges as the strongest center of familys unity and togetherness. In fact one of the first things Pa explained to Tom upon his homecoming was Mas reaction to knowing they were just about ready to leave him behind. She got that quiet look like when somebody died. Almost dont want to go to California, fear shell never see you no more. (72). Family was always number one, and absolutely the most important thing. In Mas mind, so long as one member of the family was separated from the rest, and no matter how safe they may be, they were as good as dead.
With a self-contained, self-sustaining mindset, the Joads began their own migration blindly fighting for survival in a world that they had yet to understand. However, while struggling against both nature and society, the Joads experience tremendous growth in discovering whats more important than to care for themselves; a journey to discovering the human spirit. Grampa, quickly followed by Granma, becomes the first casualties of the familys fight to stay together. Shortly after their deaths, Rose of Sharons husband Connie, bitter at his new lifestyle, shocks the entire family by running away. The harsh blows against the Joads unity are pushed even further when Al Joad declares, Im goin out on my own purty soon. Fella can make his way lot easier if he aint got a fambly (361), however this one hits much closer to home, particularly for Ma, than Connies desertion. The weakening bonds between Al and the family work to fulfill Mas worst fear, the dissolving of the family.
Along the familys exodus, broader illustrations of the happenings of migrant workers are provided through shorter, more generalized parallels to the Joads situation. Chapter 3 beautifully examples this through an extensive metaphor of the persistence and toleration demonstrated not only by the Joad family, but by the migrant population in general. Steinbeck admired the migrants; they meet so much suffering, yet never gave up. With heartbreak after heartbreak, the Joad familys losses brought more than just achethey brought a new consciousness of society and their role in it. What life on the road teaches them is that when family is the only stable foundation for survival and a right home is lacking, sometimes the formation of new kinships are the only means to keep this foundation strong. The Joads experience this firsthand by accepting the Wilsons into the group. In looking after their interests as a communal family, the Joads find strength that they lack on their own. In chapter 17, the reader witnesses a great uniting of the migrant community, while stepping away from the Joads, as twenty families became one family, the children were 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). Without parallels that give Steinbecks own commentary to solidify an idea, a lot of the novel would lack the social background that gives insight into the lives of all of those affected during the time. Through this short chapter, it is understood that the Joads and the migrant community in general are all in the same position. By recognizing this, they know they can depend on one another, and realize the incredible strength and salvaging power of family.
As the story progresses, the migrants (including the Joads) eventually realize that in the face of hardship, all livelihood depends on the adaptable nature of family and unity in order to survive. Near the end of the novel, Ma gives a final acceptance of the importance of society over her own individual family in concluding, Use ta be the fambly was fust. It aint so now. Its anybody. (445). Ma goes from being sharply focused on her familys needs to realizing that her family is all of humanity. What Ma has picked up is actually an idea that Steinbeck has portrayed through many different characterswhether part of the Joads story or in a more generalized populationand at many different times in the novel. It is the concept of a collective consciousness, the concept of the oversoul, preached throughout by Jim Casy, yet originally belonging to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck demonstrates the true saving power of unity and togetherness through family bonds through the concept of Emersons oversoul, and parallel structure. The development of parallels enable the reader to fully understand the hardships migrants faced, and allows Steinbeck to give his insightful commentary in order to convey the importance of discovering the collective good of mankind.