Explain how the behavior of the Joads shows Steinbecks view of the responsibility of the individual to society as a whole. Chapter 14 made an interesting point. At one point in the chapter it was stated that a farmer lost his farm. As this mans family picks up their belongings and heads west they meet up with another family dealing with a similar situation. Now these two families share a common bond. A brotherhood is forming. This is the catalyst. No longer is it one farmer saying he lost his land but two farmers united saying they lost their land.
Much the same transformation happens to the Joad family especially to the characters of Ma, Young Tom, and Rose of Sharon. At the onset of the novel we see the Joad family struggling just to keep their immediate family together. They are focused on just themselves. By the end of this wonderful book we see the Joad family branching out in many different ways to embrace all of mankind as one big family. Ma Joads main concern at the beginning of the story is her family. She wants to keep the unit together and works diligently to achieve this goal.
However, one by one, family members leave the group for various reasons leading to the slow but sure disintegration of the Joad clan. The first to go is Noah; then Grandpa and Grandma die;Connie walks off and leaves Rose of Sharon; Young Tom leaves because he has gotten into trouble again; and Al becomes engaged and decides to go with his fiancees family. Ma deals with each loss as best she can. As the story progresses, we find Ma Joad becoming more and more concerned with people outside the family unit.
She feels the need to share whatever meager food and elongings her family has with other families enduring hardships. She saw the needs of her own family at the beginning of the story and by the end of the novel, she sees the needs of her fellow man. Young Tom appears to be self-centered when he if first introduced. He has just left prison after serving four years for murder. Tom want to enjoy life to the fullest and to be with his family. He is very disturbed to find the family home deserted and almost destroyed.
He by this time has reacquainted himself with Jim Casey, an ex-preacher. The more Tom listens to Jim and his views on life, the soul of man, and the fellowship of mankind, the less he focuses on himself and his needs. He then begins to focus on the plight and abuse of the homeless farmers. He starts to realize that in order for the migrant workers to survive and succeed they must unite. He knows that if they band together as one, they can demand that their God-given rights under the constitution be honored. They can begin to gain respect from their fellow man.
After Jim is killed, Tom takes up the cause of his people. He plans to work with them. Just as Jim taught him, Tom realizes that man is no good alone and that every mans soul is just a piece of a bigger one. Rose of Sharon is totally focused on herself from the beginning. She is pregnant for the first time and in love with her husband so her little world is complete. She constantly bemoans the fact that she needs nutritious food so her baby will be healthy. She is always concerned that what she does or what others do to her will hurt her baby in some way.
She is so wrapped up in herself and the baby she is arrying that she does not realize that her family is falling apart. She whines and moans her way through most of the book until her baby is born dead. The death of her child seems to transform her. At the very end of the novel she breast feeds a dying man. To me this is symbolic of drinking from the milk of human kindness. She gives of herself to save another human being. She too is learning about the fellowship of man. In conclusion, as the Joad family seemingly disintegrates, they actually merge in to a larger, more universal family the family of man.