And Tom later, when it’s blowed over, you’ll come back? You’ll find us?
There’s a lot to be said about The Grapes of Wrath, but that is my favorite line. It encompasses everything that is beautiful about the story. The ever-living hope. The willingness to believe that though life is crap now, it’ll be better.
When it’s blowed over–it doesn’t matter what part of her troubles she’s referring to, Ma Joad hasn’t given up hope. Or the belief that humans will behave with humanity again. When it’s blowed over–you’ll come back. We can be together again. We can love and be a family. We can hope and dream of better times and work hard through these hard times.
In many ways, The Grapes of Wrath is a love story. I know that sounds crazy when you think about it being a story with the intention of shaming those who caused the Great Depression.
But the love story is the love for a mother and her family. Her love for her son, Tom. It doesn’t matter that he kills two men, she loves him. Now and forever. She has faith in his goodness and can accept that a man who defends himself and others isn’t a bad man.
She loves her son, Noah. Her willingness to accept that he isn’t quite normal and to let him be when he goes to live on the river.
Her love for her daughter, Rose of Sharon, who is left a single mother during the middle of the depression and is scared, lonely, and a little paranoid. Ma has the ability to goad and Rose through the hard times.
Ma’s ability to see and accept Uncle John as a drinker but to keep him close, forgive him his mistakes and foibles. Her ability to take on Pa Joad and take leadership of the family–whatever is necessary to keep her family together.
Ma’s love for Ruthie even though she tells on Tom. Ma understands her children where they’re at–Ruthie who’s little and naive and makes a terrible mistake when she doesn’t mean to.
And most of all, Ma’s love for people. She clearly promises to take care of the little boy at the end of the book. And she helps Rose of Sharon to save the boy’s father by giving something only Rose of Sharon can give.
The Grapes of Wrath is more than that love story though. It’s Steinbeck’s love story of the poor. He wrote a whole book illustrating the crime that had been done and done and done again. He illustrated the underserved hatred to tell the story of a people who needed to be loved and helped. The story of good people doing their best. He looked at the poor of America, struggling through one of the most devastating financial times our country has ever seen, and he made sure that the terrible things that happened during those times were things that would be remembered and would, hopefully, haunt those who committed the crimes. I hope, I so hope, The Grapes of Wrath haunted those who contributed to the suffering.
I hope that we, as a people and a country, are self-aware enough–now–to never let it happen again.
PS–My grandparents lived through the Depression in Kansas. They were there throughout the dust bowl and left after my Uncle died in the forties. My Uncle was just a little boy. I remember my Dad saying Grandma never fully recovered from the loss of her son. When my Dad spoke of his mother–he often teared up. Dad adored his Mother. So the family love stories cross generations and are told with written word and with stories from one person to another.