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Breastfeeding in The Grapes of Wrath: Ending & Analysis

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  • 0:04 The Grapes of Wrath
  • 1:04 Flood and Despair
  • 2:27 A Lasting Impression
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is a dark story about migrant workers in California and the challenges they face. This lesson discusses the ending of the story and how the final images stay with readers.

The Grapes of Wrath

Can you imagine having to move across the country during hardship, only to find more hardship when you get there? John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in the late 1930s to address just this issue. It shows how families from the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma migrated to California only to endure more scarcity and hardship. The story specifically follows the Joad family and their journey of losing their farm. They traveled to California in search of work but instead, found other starving people, conflict, and death. The Joads lose family members along the way to death or because they have to follow their own path.

The darkness of the novel isn't broken with comedy or even very much hope. Steinbeck strove to show the rawness of these people's lives as they would have lived them. Steinbeck decided to write this novel after he interviewed real migrant workers in California and grew angry at their treatment. This lesson takes a look at the controversial ending of the novel and what it might mean.

Flood and Despair

By the last chapter, the Joad family are trying to find a way to build up the embankment to keep the train cars from flooding. All the men help once they realize Rose of Sharon has gone into labor and will give birth. Rose of Sharon is in agony all night as she tries to have her baby. But just as the baby comes, a tree falls due to the storm, breaks the embankment, and allows water to rush in.

The water destroys any possibility of the cars being able to drive and is also threatening the safety of everyone living in the train cars. Things go from bad to worse when they realize that Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn. Their hard lives and lack of food had not allowed the baby to live. They put the baby in a cardboard box and send it down the river, unwilling to bury it, and then travel on from the flooding area.

The rain continues to pour, which drives them into a barn to take shelter. The Joads see that they are sharing the barn with a sickly man and his young son. The son explains that his father is dying of starvation. The food he had tried to feed his father was too much, so he needed something milder to give him, like milk. It's here that Ma Joad looks at Rose of Sharon, and they seem to come to an unspoken agreement. Ma shoves the rest of the family out of the barn, and Rose of Sharon lays next to the old man and breastfeeds him. The very last sentence states she had a 'mysterious smile.'

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