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Survival of the Passionate Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sleep, and John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath, focus their novels on astounding women, the backbone of support necessary for their family to overcome obstacles and survive. In many ways, women are used to gathering information, inspiring, encouraging the hero, while hiding the negative with an absolute and optimistic, though often false, attitude. The women in these two novels are parallel in many ways. They all achieve and further implement the author’s theme of family solidarity. The women who fill this role are: Rose of Sharon and Carmen Sternwood, Mrs. Wainwright and Blonde Agnes, Sarah Wilson and Mrs. Mars, and Ma and Vivian Regan. Steinbeck’s and Chandler’s novels both exaggerate the harshness of the world. The idea of survival of the fittest is the backbone of both societal structures in the novels. Steinbeck and Chandler attempt to point out the uncaring nature of many people. These people’s greed overcomes them and money becomes their priority. However, in the long run, those kind of people “will die out and the family will survive” (Steinbeck, 381). In The Grapes of Wrath, the greedy farm land owners nearly starve all of the workers and treat them excessively bad because any luxury for the immigrants would mean one less penny for the rich land owners. In The Big Sleep, the murder mystery leads to a society based on survival of the strongest and a struggle to hide all the dark secrets so that the family will successfully endure. Both stories have dominant women as the center of the family’s support system, as they are able to step up in the times most crucial to meet the family needs. Rose of Sharon is a young married woman with a baby in her womb dreaming of a plentiful life in California. Carmen Sternwood is the youngest daughter who always finds herself in wild predicaments as she runs rampant in the Hollywood nightlife. She has visions of a grander night where she is irresistible to every man. Both girls are similar in the way that they were exemplified as the weakest link of the family. Each suffers from some sort of medical condition, Carmen suffers from epilepsy and Rose of Sharon is pregnant, which in turn makes them weak and unable to be the strong leaders they could otherwise be. Because both young women live in a world where the strongest will survive, both are suffering from their insecurities. Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn child and Carmen goes into epileptic commas. These women have to overcome society’s great demands and their sanity is sacrificed in order to survive. Rose of Sharon goes into a long shock when her child was born dead, but she allows an old stranger to suckle from her breast and takes him as her child. Carmen, too, is slightly questionable in her mental status as the detective reports her as “The dark slate of color of the iris had devoured the pupil. They were mad” (Chandler, 35). These two women are nearly children. They are both awed by beautiful things: Rose of Sharon with the new gold earrings and Carmen with the expensive and long jade earrings. In many ways they are curious children, Rose of Sharon explores campground showers and Carmen continually sucks her thumb as she explores the world around her. Steinbeck and Chandler use these two women to show the effects of a weak family member on the family. They show that if the family continues to try, it will go on, although sometimes society hurts the innocent family members so badly that the weaker members must rely upon the stronger family members in order to deal with the stresses and trauma thrown on them by a harsh society. Mrs. Wainwright is a mother of one and mild in character. When needed as the leader of the family she steps up to the challenge in an attempt to better her family’s lives. Blond Agnes is a young woman who looses her boyfriend and must conjure up the strength needed to provide a better life. Both are struggling to help to survive. When the family leader, Ma, is so despondent and tired and in need of rest, Mrs. Wainwright steps up to the plate, guides the family, and becomes the new leader. She sacrifices her future health as she is in nearly the same condition as Ma Joad. Blond Agnes, originally in a position lacking leadership, accompanies her boyfriend in attempts overthrow her boss. She looses her future when her boyfriend, and only family, is killed and she is forced to develop the personal leadership necessary to build a new future. Both women exemplify the themes in which Chandler and Steinbeck so diligently believe. They sacrifice themselves because of their strong beliefs in keeping the family together as stated in The Grapes of Wrath on page 383: “As people [they] go on livin’ when all them people is gone We’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why we’re the people-We go on!” Mrs. Wainwright would resort to any action for her family, just as Agnes hurt the detective because she felt she was protecting her family. Chandler and Steinbeck insist the dominant power of family attachments allow these women to emerge from a male dominant society to fend for themselves and their loved ones.

Sarah Wilson, a wife who withheld from her husband that she was dying of cancer, and Mrs. Mars, a wife who hides out so that her husband is not blamed for the murder of her ex-lover, both sacrifice for their husbands. Sarah attempts to travel to California with her husband, but the pain of the cancer is unbearable for her and her travel must come to an indefinent stop. Mrs. Mars hides away in a cabin amongst the thick forest in a distant suburb to protect her husband. In a sense, both women are protecting their husbands. Sarah protects Ivy from knowing that she has cancer because it would cause him great pain while Mrs. Mars protects Eddie from being questioned by the law by hiding away in a lonely cabin. Sarah Wilson and Mrs. Mars represent dedicated wives that will do anything to prove their love for their husbands and family. Mrs. Mars cuts off all of her hair in an attempt to physically prove to Eddie that she loves only him. Sarah holds back the pain of the cancer eating her alive in order for her husband to not give up on his hopes of a good life in California. These two women possess the passion of love that each expresses through tireless dedication to their husbands. Chandler and Steinbeck show through these women that the power of a woman’s love can in fact keep a family going. Ma Joad, the dominant member of the Joad family, will go to any limits to keep the family together, and Vivian Regan, the loving Sternwood sister, will also go to any limits to protect the well being of her family. Ma is well educated in her rural lifestyle; the life of a mother, homemaker, and resident protector of her Oklahoman Family. Vivian is also well educated to her Hollywood celebrity’s lifestyle; spoiled, street smart, and protector of her Hollywood-mannered sister. Both of these women go to the ultimate extremes for their family survival. Ma begs for sugar, lies to the border guards and cops, and sacrifices her own health to keep their family together. Vivian lies to the detective, getas into debt in order to pay off the blackmailing of her sister, and even covers up the murder of her husband by her insane sister to keep their family together. Each woman is willing to bend her morals and the truth, corrupting their value system at all costs just so the family would survive. Without these strong women the two families would not have survived. The authors wanted to show that without strong leadership, like that given by Ma and Vivian, families simply cannot prevail. The Grapes of Wrath and The Big Sleep contain the same important themes, which are family strength and family survival. Each theme is emphasized in that each member of the family sacrifices in order to keep the family together. The Joads base their family relationship on the backbone of Ma’s hope, desire, and goal to survive. The Sternwood family was held together by the eldest daughter, Vivian, who risks loosing everything for her family’s good name to survive. Driven by this urge to stay together through thick and thin, each family is obligated to follow the woman who emerges as the leader in the male dominant society. To each family the concept of family was not just a simple connection of blood relation to one another; instead it was the willingness to sacrifice for one another. In this effort, the women provide an optimistic outlet of support, standing by their men, pushing them to live on, and helping heroes emerge. Each member of the Joad and Sternwood family is dedicated to staying together. Each family is always there for one another to help “their kind,” as they love each other and put their entire lives into the survival of the family net (Steinbeck, 383). From inspiration to dedication to passion, women in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Raymond’s The Big Sleep, are always the bearers of the family’s troubles, expressing the outlook optimistically and with the determination to keep the family alive at all costs.


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