Ethnography: Ma

By: Alexa Rainey

Lifestyle and it's affect on social status

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"I washed 'em up," Ma said. "Fust water we got enough of to give 'em a goin-over. Lef' the buckets out for you fellas to wash too. Can't keep nothin' clean on the road." (Steinbeck 192)

The way that the Joad family lived caused them to appear as if the couldn't take care of themselves. Not only was this discomforting to traveling migrants but it was also a nuisance to the natives of California. People didn't give them respect because they did not look lke they respected themselves. This resulted in name-calling and unfair treatment to the desperate people who were fighting for survival in a place that wanted them to disappear. Finding a workplace with fair pay became difficult, and migrants either gave up or worked even harder to provide for their family.


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"Ma hung a tarpaulin across the middle of the car. "It's nice," she said. "It's almost nicer than anything we had 'cept the gov'ment camp."(Steinbeck 409)

The quality of living for a typical migrant is not high, but a boxcar can provide warmth and shelter from weather. Ma found an appreciation for the small amount of humanity that was given back to them when they found this makeshift home.They had gone from living in tents to living in a government camp. This was a high point in their travels and Ma was more than happy with running water and a community of people who cared, but their stay was cut short because of their empty wallets. They moved on to pick peaches and stayed in a small, hut-like room. The room was not large enough for the family of seven to live in and Ma could not provide enough food for them with the money that they recieved. Finally, they found a place that would fit their needs; the boxcar. They realized that when you have next to nothing you take what you can get.


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"We got to do sompin," she said. And she pointed at Winifield. "Look at 'im," she said... "Lookut his color.".... "An' the money gone...One day' more grease an' two days' flour, an ten potatoes. You set here an' get busy!" (Steinbeck 350)

Ma works as hard as she can to keep her family together, but there is only so much she can do. She buys cheap items in bulk to try and feed the family but now that the money is out they are desperate. They can no longer provide for themselves and they must move on. Their lives revolve around finding work that is seemingly nonexistent, but Ma will not take it. If she is going to work hard to find food then so is the rest of the family.


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Many traveled with their families, squeezing people into what little space they had in the car
"Woman can change better'n a man," Ma said soothingly. "Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head. Don' you mind. Maybe- Well, maybe nex' year we can get a place." (Steinbeck 423)

Although Ma would much prefer a nice house to live in, she does not mind the constant traveling. The car may be full to the brim and their lives in constant motion but she knows that it is for the greater good. Her family is depending on her to stay hopeful and show that their situation will get better. Her patience and kindness guided them through rough days on the road and when the time came to pick up and keep traveling she did it with purpose and determination. The situation her family was in was not one of comfort but one of desperation, and if they had to live out of a tent and an old car then they would.

work cited

"Search Results." Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. <>.

Lange, Dorathy. "The History Place - Dorothea Lange Photo Gallery: Migrant Farm Families." The History Place - Dorothea Lange Photo Gallery: Migrant Farm Families. 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. <