Grapes of Wrath: Breastfeeding the Patriarchy

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Katy Roets Mrs. Robert ECE Am. Studies 5 April 2013 Grapes of Wrath: Breastfeeding the Patriarchy Throughout the Great Depression, more and more people (men specifically) could not provide for their families. This inability to afford the costs of basic human needs calls into question the structure of our society: the patriarchy. Our patriarchal hierarchy focuses more on power than on communal success. Obviously, something wasn’t working if the Great Depression came to be. In this sense, men felt emasculated; their instinctual desire to be the breadwinner became an impossible dream. In The Grapes of Wrath, as in history, women rise up when their families’ well being is threatened. This is seen when Ma becomes the noticeable “head of the house”, and also when Rose of Sharon is the only person capable of helping the young boy’s father. My peers forget the importance of maternity, and instead view simple things such as breastfeeding as crude and inappropriate. The scene in which Rose of Sharon breastfeeds a dying man is meant to be no more sexual than a mother hugging her child; it is an act of nourishment and exemplifies Steinbeck’s use of a matriarchal prominence in The Grapes of Wrath. For centuries we as Americans have lived under a patriarchal hierarchy. However, anthropologist Robert Briffault theorized that the original society was a matriarchal one; Warren Motley, author of From Patriarchy to Matriarchy: Ma Joad’s Role wrote, “Working from [these theories], Steinbeck presents Ma Joad’s growing power as a source of communal strength sheltering human dignity from the antisocial effects of individualism” (Motley). Briffault’s theories, like Charles Darwin’s, are constantly noted in animal studies; “the first social groups evolve from biologically linked maternal clans of brothers and sisters rather than patriarchal families based on sexual bonds” (Motley).

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