As the Joads depart, their interactions speak further to their common belief in the importance of family and the family structure. Men lead—even if, as in Grampa’s case, their guidance is merely ceremonial—whereas women follow. It is important to note this structure now, for once the family is on the road, this traditional power dynamic shifts. This process is prefigured in Casy’s insistence that he help Ma Joad salt the meat. Faced with dauntingly difficult work, the group can no longer cling to gender-based divisions of labor.
Thus, while economic adversity may frequently drive divisions between people, it can also serve to erase divisions, to emphasize everyone’s common humanity. Steinbeck’s text insists that the hardships of the road, while often creating ugliness, can also yield unexpected beauty. A single instance of charity or kindness emerges as an oasis of moral nobility, both testifying to and renewing the strength of the human spirit. Although the Joads declare the family’s goal to be their arrival in California, it is these rare and serendipitous places along the road—in which hope is confirmed despite life’s atrocities—that constitute the Joads’ true destination.