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The Changing Family Revealed in Grapes of Wrath Essay

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The Changing Family Revealed in Grapes of Wrath       


   The emphasis on family in America is decreasing. Divorce rates, single-parent households, and children born out of wedlock are all increasing. Furthermore, instead of the network of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other relatives that was prevalent in early America, Americans today are more distant from their extended family. As sociologist David Elkind said in a 1996 interview with Educational Leadership, "Instead of togetherness, we have a new focus on autonomy. The individual becomes more important than the family" (4). This means that one of the basic needs of humanity, belongingness and love, is very likely going unfilled in many people.

 

The changing family isn't a new issue.  John Steinbeck began to explore the changes taking place in the family during the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath. Though the book has many layers and themes, one of the major one's is the changing family. In 1933, six years before publishing the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote a letter to George Albee saying, "[Man] also arranges himself into larger units, which I have called the phalanx" (Life in Letters, 79). He cites religion, the MOB, and various war-time armies as examples of a phalanx, but surely the family unit falls into the category of larger, interconnected groups of people. In the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck explores the need for family and the changing family structure through the lens of a Great Depression era family, the Joads.

 

That the Joad family mutates due to their trials is undoubtable. What the Joads were like originally can only be imagined. By the beginning of the novel, the family has already lost its home and had to move in wi...


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...ace in the World. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

* Morrow, Jeff. Personal Interview. April 23, 1998.

* Noble, Donald R. ed. The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in Criticism. Troy, New York, 1993.

* Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.

* Steinbeck, John. A Life in Letters. New York: Penguin Books, 1969.

* Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1930.

* Swerdlow, Amy, et al. Families in Flux. New York: The Feminist Press,1989.

* Timmerman, John H. John Steinbeck's Fiction: The Aesthetics of the Road Taken. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

* Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations, Third Edition. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1997.

* Wyatt, David ed. New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.


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