Family Collage The Grapes of Wrath (Film) An analysis of the Joads CMS 332
Comprised of multiple generations, the Joad family is headed by the traditional partnership between a mother, Ma Joad, and a father, Pa Joad. Additionally, their children, all of whom range from adolescence to adulthood, are also accompanied by their paternal grandparents, paternal uncle, and Connie, their brother-in-law.
Galvin, Bylund and Brommel define this as an extended, or intergenerational family. They state: “Although an extended family traditionally refers to that group of relatives living within a nearby geographic area, it may be more narrowly understood as the presence of blood relatives, other than the parents, in the everyday life of a child. For example, this may take a cross-generational form, including grandparents who live with a parent-child system.” (2012, p. 10)
The Joad family relied on the members that comprised the group, and also shared unquestionably similar values and attitudes. These observations indicate they're a Consensual family.
“ Consensual families are high in both conversation and conformity strategies with their communication characterized by pressure for agreement, although children are encouraged to express ideas and feelings.” (Galvin, Bylund and Brommel, 2012, p. 173)
“ From the moment of birth, you have been learning how to manage issue of distance and closeness within your family system.” (Galvin, Bylund and Brommel, 2012, p. 30)
With their home foreclosed on and the journey to the unknown West ahead of them, the Joads', who were already a very enmeshed family, became even more so once faced with their collective adversity.
Galvin, Bylund and Brommel define an enmeshed family when “family members experience extreme closeness, loyalty, dependence, and almost no individuality.” (2012, p. 31)
“ A Theme may be viewed as a pattern of feelings, motives, fantasies and conventionalized understandings grouped around a particular locus of concern, which has a particular form in the personalities of individual members.” (Hess and Handel, 1959)
The Joads were forced to abandon their home and lost two grandparents in their uncertain journey west, yet they continued onward Route 66 with hopeful thoughts and high spirit. Their resistance to hellish adversity is a testimony to their collective “we will not break” perspective.
“ I ain't never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn't have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared.... Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain't no good and they die out, but we keep on coming. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, cos we're the people.” (The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Jane Darwell. 1940.)
Galvin, Bylund and Brommel describe a family's image as a metaphor that “allows people to understand one element in terms of another.” (2012, p. 38)
Although several can apply, no metaphor is more convincing than the relationship between a hand and it's fingers. Coming together individually to form a collective, the Joads serve their family as a finger serves it's hand.
Doing what needs to be done- Although consistently in a place of discomfort the Joads do what they can to achieve what they can.
Collective closeness- an intergenerational family with an agrarian history, the Joads work best collectively. Pa Joad best reflects this sentiment when he wishfully explained that the “fine, working hands” of him, his sons and brother will “pick enough” to ensure a means of sustainability.
“ We'll do what we got to do” (The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Jane Darwell. 1940.)
Making Meaning (cont.)
Work ethic- No stranger to physical, or mental adversity, the Joads do what's needed of them individually with a great sense of pride.
With one notable exception, the Joads prepare for the coming day by going to sleep together. When it was time to go to bed, it was time. This didn't have to be announced, it was just understood.
Dance- throughout the film, the Joads use dance as a deterrent from the underwhelming realities of the present.
“ Rituals convey a variety of meanings and messages in emotionally powerful patterns; they remind members of who they are, how much they care about each other, and they reflect a family's relational culture.” (Galvin, Bylund and Brommel, 2012, p. 113)
Family Roles The collective strength of the Joads isn't coincidental. Every family member has a particular role, and it's because of their adherence to these roles that their hope remains. Although this was less pronounced with some of the characters, three in particular were clearly evident. Pa Joad- as a former farmer, Pa Joad was the most notable provider for the family. This dynamic allowed him to inherit a sense of leadership within the family, but the older he became, the less frequently he was relied upon for such responsibility. Ma Joad- a natural nurturer, Ma Joad is the glue that keeps the family together. She provides unparalleled, and much needed emotional support for her family. When her pregnant daughter was abandoned by her husband, Ma was there. When Tom was beaten and bloodied, Ma was there. It's also important to note that her presence as the family's matriarch was heightened each day her husband aged. Tom Joad- With his father's aging body and mind an increasingly evident issue, Tom, for a while, inherited some of his responsibility. His inclusion in the family's decision making is a testament to this. Also, in joining a grassroots movement against the forces that defined his family's predicament, Tom was an advocate and protector.
Galvin, Bylund and Brommel provide a fitting definition of decision making that seamlessly applies to the Joads: “Decision making, like power, is a process that belongs to the family system, not to an individual.”
Although offered limited options, the decision to collectively journey West was made after discussion and collaboration within the family.
This communal approach isn't to suggest some held no additional sway, as Pa, and Ma Joad specifically, were the inherit leaders.
The family was faced with habitual conflict and since it tended to affect everyone's basic well-being, they were naturally collaborative.
Few exceptions break this thematic element to the Joads, save for the moment Grandpa Joad was confronted with the decision to leave the land he considered his. With stubbornness stiffening his limbs, this style of conflict is considered by Galvin, Bylund and Brommel, as avoiding . (2012, p. 214)
“ Collaboration occurs when you show concern for other family members as well as high concern for self.” (Galvin, Bylund and Brommel, 2012, p. 214)
Comprising Something Greater
Without each of these elements comprising something greater, the Joads' wouldn't have survived their hellish, heartbreaking adversity.
Their closeness served as a benefit, as collaboration and a sense of belonging to something bigger than their individual self was a necessity of their time.
Galvin, Kathleen M., Carma Lee. Bylund, and Bernard J. Brommel. Family Communication: Cohesion and Change. Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2012. Print.
The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Jane Darwell. 1940.
Hess, Robert D., and Gerald Handel. Family Worlds: a Psychosocial Approach to Family Life. Lanham, MD: University of America, 1995. Print.