Misfit to Madonna: Rose of Sharon’s Transformation
When Rose of Sharon is first introduced in The Grapes of Wrath, we learn that she is expecting a child from her new husband, Connie Rivers. She is described as a mystical being whose primary concern is the well-being of her child, even at the almost ridiculously early stage of her pregnancy at the start of the novel. It is this concern that illustrates Rose of Sharon’s transformation from misfit to Madonna through the Joad’s journey.
Rose of Sharon incessantly asks Ma Joad if “it’ll hurt the baby” throughout a majority of the novel, and adopts an attitude of superiority over others with her precious possession. She all but refuses to help the family pack the truck for California for fear of disturbing her fetus, even though she knows her help is needed. Her selfish antics and complaints are patiently absorbed by Ma, who tolerates her primarily because of her condition. Rose of Sharon knows that she is now an exception to the normal rules and exploits her position to its fullest potential.
During the journey Rose of Sharon and Connie pass the time by dreaming of the idyllic life they will lead when they reach California. Connie says he will open a repair shop and buy a white house with a fence and an icebox and a car and a crib, all before the baby is born; all hopelessly idealistic and almost completely detached from reality. Every intention, though, is for the baby so that it may have a perfect life from the very moment it is born. In the face of hardships, Rose of Sharon comforts herself by remembering these dreamlike goals of her family and even reminds others of them, intending to lift the burden of reality. She does so when the sheriff threatens the roadside families to leave or be jailed. She tells Ma of Connie’s plans for California, which have nothing to do with the situation at that moment. This escape only proves to ultimately hurt Rose of Sharon and Connie; they learn that illusions don’t support a life when survival is the priority.
Rose of Sharon’s dreams of a perfect life start to fall apart when Connie deserts her suddenly. She can no longer find comfort in shared thoughts of a white-picket fence, and is forced to face reality. However, instead of concentrating on the Joad family crises, she diverts her worries fully to her baby once again. She reverts to childish antics such as refusing to dance at Weedpatch because she thinks it might be bad for the baby. Her life becomes superficial now, rather than illusory, in order to escape her harsh reality once again.
When Rose of Sharon’s baby is finally born, she expects to be rewarded for every moment and thought devoted to the life of her child. Instead, the baby is dead; her energies have been wasted, overcome by the reality she tried so hard to avoid by plunging her actions into the care of her child. She finally, truly sees that she must accept and take on reality in order for life to go on. So, when the Joad family comes across the starving man and his son, Rose of Sharon sees it as an opportunity to redeem her misguided actions, and chooses to sustain life. The old man, to her, is a surrogate for her child, a chance to make up for her failure because she simply refused to accept reality. Her actions show this realization when she gives the dying man her milk, giving him a chance to live. She has finally matured and taken on responsibility, and realizes that life is the only important thing in their situation – not personal happiness.
Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy and the consequences it effects are the catalysts for her change in attitude, from misfit to Madonna, throughout The Grapes of Wrath. She first sees it as an excuse for her actions, but transforms her still-born child to a reason for positive change and preservation of existing life at the end of the novel.