The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Family, Community & Children

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

'The Grapes of Wrath' explores the themes of family, community, and children, as well as how these groups and institutions play a role in the lives of the migrant workers. This lesson looks closely at several key quotes that pertain to these themes.

Family

Given the state of flux of the lives of the migrant workers (or people who move around with the change of seasons to get work) of the world, it's not surprising that family is very important to them, especially since it's one of their last stabilizing forces. The Joads, the family we get to know the best in The Grapes of Wrath, provide most of the commentary on the role of the family in this strange and harsh new world that the migrants find themselves in. Ma Joad, in particular, has a lot to say about the need for families to stay together. For example, when Tom is considering leaving the family in Chapter 26, after he has killed the man who murdered Casy, Ma tries to talk him out of this decision:

'They was the time when we was on the lan'. They was a boundary to us then. Ol' folks died off, an' little fellas come, an' we was always one thing - we was the fambly - kinda whole and clear. An' now we ain't clear no more. I can't get straight. They ain't nothin' keeps us clear.'

Ma goes on to point out all the ways that their family has started to come apart since they left their home so long ago. What's interesting here is that she relates the wholeness of the family to the land they used to live on; she refers to the 'boundary' of the land that kept them together. Without a home to call their own, there is less to hold them together.

Children

Children are everywhere in The Grapes of Wrath; they're in the camps, in the fields working with their parents, and in the main narrative of the Joad family in the characters of Ruthie and Winfield. The children in the story often underscore just how awful and unjust the lives of the migrant families are - while it is bad enough reading about the suffering of adults who are hungry and homeless, it is much worse seeing children suffer through the same circumstances. One scene that stands out is in Chapter 28, when the Joads have finally managed to get just a bit of money and the children are hoping that some of it might be used to buy them a treat at the grocery store:

'Ruthie came near, in her hands two large boxes of Cracker Jack, in her eyes a brooding question which on a nod or a shake of Ma's head might become tragedy or joyous excitement. 'Ma?' She held up the boxes, jerked them up and down to make them attractive. 'Now you put them back -' The tragedy began to form in Ruthie's eyes. Pa said, 'They're on'y a nickel apiece. Them little fellas worked good today.'

Ma clearly knows that it would be better to save what little money they have or to use it for food for the entire family, but it isn't possible to resist her daughter, particularly when Pa weighs in on Ruthie's side. The most heartbreaking part of this vignette is when Pa points out that the children 'worked good today'. It is a sad world when the children put in the same back-breaking work that the adults do, and there is still not nearly enough money to feel comfortable buying the children treats. But after months away from home and away from any security or comfort, they can at least provide this small treat for their children.

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