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A determined and loving woman, Ma Joad emerges as the
family’s center of strength over the course of the novel as Pa Joad
gradually becomes less effective as a leader and provider. Regardless
of how bleak circumstances become, Ma Joad meets every obstacle unflinchingly.
Time and again, Ma displays a startling capacity to keep herself
together—and to keep the family together—in the face of great turmoil.
She may demonstrate this faculty best during the family’s crossing
of the California desert. Here, Ma suffers privately with the knowledge
that Granma is dead, riding silently alongside her corpse so that
the family can complete its treacherous journey. At the end of the
episode, Ma’s calm exterior cracks just slightly: she warns Tom
not to touch her, saying that she can retain her calm only as long
as he doesn’t reach out to her. This ability to act decisively, and
to act for the family’s good, enables Ma to lead the Joads when Pa
begins to falter and hesitate. Although she keeps her sorrows to herself,
she is not an advocate of solitude. She consistently proves to be
the novel’s strongest supporter of family and togetherness. Indeed,
the two tendencies are not in conflict but convene in a philosophy
of selfless sacrifice. Ma articulates this best, perhaps, when she
wordlessly directs her daughter to breast-feed the starving man in
Chapter 30. With her indomitable nature, Ma Joad suggests that
even the most horrible circumstances can be weathered with grace
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Grapes of Wrath!