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Ma Joad is one of the main characters in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. Ma is a strong, wife and mother who is the leader of the family. She does anything to keep the family together. In Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck uses two literary techniques, direct description and portrayal of characters behavior, to create the character, Ma Joad.

With the use of the literary technique, direct description, Steinbeck describes Ma’s physical appearance. He describes her as, “heavy, but not fast; thick with childbearing and work.” “Her thin, steel gray hair was gathered in a spore wispy knot at the back of her head.” He describes her arms as, “freckled” and “bare to the elbow” and “her hands as “chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl.”

With the use of portrayal of characters, Steinbeck presents the actions and speech of Ma, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusion from what MA says or does. Throughout the novel, Ma’s face showed that it is controlled and kindly. She is the strength of the family and she always uses her emotions for her family’s benefit. Her family didn’t feel anything she didn’t feel. If she felt fear, the family did too. “Since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself.” She always kept calm in front of the family because she knew if she showed fear, she would lose control of the family. She also knows her family inside and out. She knows the inner need of each member of the family. She knows if Pa is defeated, the family will collapse so she makes sure he doesn’t. She knows how Rose of Sharon is troubled by her pregnancy. She knows Tom has a quiet strength. She knows Al doesn’t know how to deal with responsibility, and she doesn’t criticize Uncle John’s alcohol problem. Ma is the battery of the family in that she keeps it


Through the use of direct description and portrayal of characters’ behavior, Steinbeck creates the character Ma Joad in the novel, Grapes of Wrath. Ma is the strength of the family and keeps it together through rough times.

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