"Women should be kept barefoot and pregnant," was a common blunt saying in the past that stated, what was believed to be, a woman's domestic role. The general household responsibilities of women have drastically changed throughout history, let alone, in the last century. John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath during a critical time of the world. This country was undergoing serious transformations in just about everyway possible (market strategies and foreign affairs,) role of a woman was also enduring change. The purpose of this essay is to explain how Ma Joad's character was an example of a family woman's new character. The different roles that Ma Joad takes on in The Grapes of Wrath include the role of the provider for more than just physical needs, the role of a leader, and the role of a realistic human. I will then explain how Ma Joad symbolizes the housewife during and after the Great Depression and afterwards. .
The colonial and traditional American view of a woman was for a woman to be the keeper of the children and the house. Women would look after the children, cook meals, churn butter, and wash and make clothes for the family. But in the book, Ma Joad does more than just her share of chores. She tends to the emotional needs of the family members. After Grandpa Joad dies, Ma Joad does what she can to make Grandma Joad as comfortable as possible, fanning Grandma and staying near her side. She tends to Grandma Joad with the utmost compassion. Ma Joad also teaches her children compassion. When Grandma Joad was dying, Ma Joad urged Rose of Sharon to fan Grandma and stay by her side.
It is in these actions that we see the compassion of Ma Joad. It is through her heart that she feels the need to provide to her family whatever is needed, whether it is through food, kind words, or just being present during a sorrowful time.
Ma Joad also assumes the role of the leader of the family.