The Grapes of Wrath

by: John Steinbeck

Motifs

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Improvised Leadership Structures

When the novel begins, the Joad family relies on a traditional family structure in which the men make the decisions and the women obediently do as they are told. So invested are they in these roles that they continue to honor Grampa as the head of the family, even though he has outlived his ability to act as a sound leader. As the Joads journey west and try to make a living in California, however, the family dynamic changes drastically. Discouraged and defeated by his mounting failures, Pa withdraws from his role as leader and spends his days tangled in thought. In his stead, Ma assumes the responsibility of making decisions for the family. At first, this shocks Pa, who, at one point, lamely threatens to beat her into her so-called proper place. The threat is empty, however, and the entire family knows it. By the end of the novel, the family structure has undergone a revolution, in which the woman figure, traditionally powerless, has taken control, while the male figure, traditionally in the leadership role, has retreated. This revolution parallels a similar upheaval in the larger economic hierarchies in the outside world. Thus, the workers at the Weedpatch camp govern themselves according to their own rules and share tasks in accordance with notions of fairness and equality rather than power-hungry ambition or love of authority.