WOMENS POWER AND THE GRAPES OF WRATH
Pauline Weaver Mesmerizes at Last Grapes of Wrath Talk
By Shirley Gilbert
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There was a bittersweet feeling in the air at the Fremont Library on Tuesday, May 8th as AAUW members Kathy Garfinkle and Pauline Weaver passionately discussed the pivotal role of women in the Steinbeck novel.
It was a bit sad because this was the last discussion session of a year-long labor of love by the One Book One Community Leadership Team in bringing this powerful novel to the community. And it was sweet because things ended on such a high, appreciative note from the audience.
Kathy did a reprise of her dramatic reading of Ma Joad’s contribution to the novel. Pauline then launched into her take on Women, Power and the Grapes of Wrath.
She pointed out, in quotes and comments, the change in Ma Joad’s position in the family from the beginning of the novel to the end. She takes over leadership and preservation of the brood from Pa and stays hopeful and positive to the end.
Pauline followed Kathy’s reading with a talk on women’s fight for equality and how that fight pertains to the Grapes of Wrath.
“Does anyone,” asks Pauline, “remember what Ma Joad’s first name is?”
No hands go up. “Of course not,” said Pauline, “because she’s simply Ma in the novel.”
Ma is the one, according to speaker Weaver, who nurtures and protects the family. “She’s simply the universal mother.”
Further, Pauline points out that Ma is the most significant character in the novel. She’s the citadel of the family. “Pa is in charge on the land; but it’s Ma who is dominant when they leave the land. Her true strength comes out as the trip progresses.”
Here are some other perspectives from Pauline on the role of Ma and women:
- She displays unblinking courage and inner strength as time goes on. She stands up bravely to Pa.
- As they move geographically; Ma becomes more powerful and steadfast psychologically.
- California is disappointing. There’s little food and the family has to work for a pittance. Yet Ma’s optimism is the weapon she uses against disappointment.
- Ma acknowledges that Tom has to leave because he endangers the family. The family comes first.
- In terms of Rose of Sharon, Ma is her teacher. Rose puts herself in her husband’s hands but he deserts her. Ma helps her through this disappointment. Ma is her strength and rock.
- Ma lets Rose make her own decisions, especially the one when, after her baby dies, she offers sustenance to a dying stranger. This is the greatest act of charity in the novel.
Pauline ends with some statistics that show how powerful women are in today’s society:
- In 2010, 54% of women are managers;
- Women under 30 are earning more than men;
- Women are less corruptible and more honest than men;
- Men risk more and lose more;
- Women are better at defusing violent situations;
- Women live longer than men.