Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath Gender

By John Steinbeck


Chapter 1

The women went into the houses to their work, and the children began to play, but cautiously at first. (1.10)

In this novel, women keep the details of life going.

The men sat in the doorways of their houses; their hands were busy with sticks and little rocks. The men sat still – thinking – figuring. (1.10)

According to this description, the men are in charge of thinking and figuring things out. Is this true of the Joad family?

The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole. (1.10)

Do men ever break in this novel?

Chapter 5

They knew that a man so hurt and so perplexed may turn in anger, even on the people he loves. They left the men alone to figure and to wonder in the dust. (5.37)

Are the women hurt and perplexed? How do women who are hurt and perplexed behave in this novel?

The women and the children watched their men talking to the owner men. They were silent. (5.2)

Why do you think Steinbeck describes families in this way? Do you believe that the gender roles in these families are as clearly defined as this description reveals them to be? How does this description make you feel as a reader?

Chapter 9

The men were ruthless because the past had been spoiled, but the women knew how the past would cry to them in the coming days. (9.1)

The past never goes away. What relationships do characters in this novel have with the past? Do female characters tend to be more nostalgic than men?

Chapter 10
Ma Joad

And [Ma Joad's] hands were crusted with salt, pink with fluid from the fresh pork. "It's women's work," she said finally. (10.141)

Why is it so shocking that Reverend Casy would attempt to do women's work? How have gender roles changes since 1930s America?

Ma looked to Tom to speak, because he was a man, but Tom did not speak. She let him have the chance that was his right, and then she said, "Why, we'd be proud to have you. 'Course I can't say right now; Pa says all the men'll talk tonight." (10.34)

Ma is more of a "man" than Tom or Pa in this situation. She knows how to make decisions. She steps up.

Chapter 17

Men sang the words, and women hummed the tunes. (17.2)

Check out this antiquated gender divide. By singing the words, it's almost as if men are in charge of meaning, and by humming the tunes, it's almost as if women are in charge of emotion.

Ma Joad

[Ma Joad:] "Besides, us folks takes a pride holdin' in. My pa used to say, 'Anybody can break down. It takes a man not to.' We always try to hold in." (13.213)

Do men ever break down in this novel?