A hero can be described as someone who is strong, generous, unselfish, and determined. Steinbeck does an excellent job of defining a hero in the novel through the character, Ma Joad. Even if she is not a part of the circle, her opinion is always relevant when it comes to making big decisions involving the family. Throughout the journey to California, Ma is what keeps the family in check.
Starting from the beginning, Ma is seen as a strong woman, “Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding” (74). Previous tragedies that occurred in her life developed her and made her resilient. Her intuition is seen when she starts to doubt all the wonderful things said about living in the west. ‘“I’m scared of stuff so nice. I ain’t got faith. I’m scared somepin ain’t so nice about it”’ (91). Before the trip has even begun, she is well aware that something is not right.
She is generous in how she let Jim Casy join them on their journey to California. Although Pa is worried about an extra mouth to feed, Ma is certain of her decision ‘“It ain’t kin we? It’s will we?” … as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’ its’s a long time our folks been here and east before, an’ I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, never refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked”’ (102). When Ivy and Sairy Wilson could no longer continue with the Joad family, Ma left money and food for them. Ma is aware that the Wilsons do not have much and will need every little bit of help they can get in order to survive. Another act of unselfishness, is when she displays a sense of concern for the starving children in Hooverville. Despite having just enough to feed her own family, she gives what little is left of the stew to the children. ‘“you little fellas go an’ get you each a flat stick an’ I’ll put what’s lef for you”’ (257). Knowing that she has food and is capable of feeding the children, she gives in and does what must be done.
Ma is determined to get to California as soon as possible. “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” (74). She is able to keep her composure on the trip knowing that Granma is dead, fully understanding that making a scene would not help in any way and would only further delay their arrival.
Ma is also very protective of Rose of Sharon throughout the novel. When Connie leaves, the family insults him, and Ma tells everyone to stop seeing how torn apart her daughter is. ‘“Ma look into the tent, where Rose of Sharon lay on her mattress. Ma said, “Sh. Don’t say that”’ (272). Again, when a crazy lady in the camp frightened Rose of Sharon, saying how dancing will cause her baby to be stillborn. Ma takes Rosasharn to the dance and makes sure she does not dance and that no one touches her. ‘“Ma and Rose of Sharon sat on a bench and watched. And as each boy asked Rose of Sharon as partner, Ma said, “No, she ain’t well”’ (341).
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