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Steinbeck makes the Joads, his protagonists, stand in for all of the Dust Bowl farmers.While each Joad family member has his own quirks, speech patterns, and characteristics, the Joads are less a group of three-dimensional characters than they are a collection of archetypes.This narrative choice has two opposite, and often simultaneous, effects: It both elevates and universalizes the Joads and makes them difficult to care about as individuals.
The cold, soaked earth, which was a source of life not too long ago, abducts a young child while the mother can only watch hopelessly as the husband shovels mounds of dirt.
This event is not too different than most that citizens living during the Dust Bowl had to deal with.
Ma’s determination to hide the death of Granma during the desert crossing is a miracle of motherly strength and selflessness.
Pa’s attempt to construct the dam sums up the touching determination of fathers to protect their families.
Steinbeck’s grand scale not only evokes strong reactions, but it also paradoxically suppresses them.
Many novelists try to erase evidence of their own presence from their fiction, thereby allowing the reader to forget she is encountering a story that has been constructed by a writer and enjoy the illusion that she is reading about real people.
Steinbeck writes about the Dust Bowl farmers with great empathy.
The Grapes of Wrath exists, in large part, to bring to life the farmers’ plight and to depict them as ground-down but noble people.
And Rose of Sharon’s willingness to feed the starving man at the end of the novel becomes a symbol of hope and an assertion that people can be kind to one another even under the most desperate circumstances.
As Steinbeck intends, the Joads’ plight seems to represent the plight of all farmers—or, indeed, all people living through trying times—and so following the narrative can feel like following some mythological or Biblical story about the woes of humanity.