In the face of geographical displacement and economic disenfranchisement, family unity is of utmost importance for familial survival. In The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, Ma Joad acknowledges the significance of unity and acts accordingly as the primary cohesive force to keep her family together to ensure survival on their strenuous journey to California. .
From the beginning, Steinbeck immediately establishes Ma Joad as the center building block of family unity. When Tom first sees his mother for the first time since his imprisonment, she is described as "the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone" (100). Literally, Ma is portrayed as the irreplaceable guiding force behind the family. She knows and willingly accepts the important role of being an agent of family unity. Ma demonstrates her leadership ability by wisely acknowledging the fact that she cannot give in, show weakness, or allow any event to alter her judgment for it would cause the family to deteriorate: "Since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself she had become faultless in judgment" (100). Ma's unwillingness to show pain and fear, coupled with her rich experience in life and the sufferings that she has endured, enable her to temporarily protect her family from breaking apart and get them through the hardships that the Joad family would encounter in California.
Throughout the novel, Ma is determined to protect the unity of the family and preserve a positive outlook regarding life in California. Ma realizes that in their migrant way of life, family is the only thing that is important and valuable. When the Wilsons" car breaks down on their difficult journey to California, Tom suggests that the families continue traveling separately while him and Jim Casy stay behind to fix the car and catch up with them later.