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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Grapes of Wrath!