With light, there is shade. With inclusion, comes exclusion. Having outsiders is what creates insiders. Even in groups of outsiders, there are outsiders; the outside of an already outcast group. Similarly to a fractal, this pattern repeats endlessly, getting smaller and smaller each time. Without outsiders, there could never be a community of close knit people, as anyone could join and ruin ties whenever they wanted to. However, there are also those who are outside the norm simply because they are different or quirky. Through Noah Joad, Steinbeck’s character in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck shows how there are always outsiders, no matter how much of an outcast a group itself may be.
Family is defined by blood. Noah is considered part of the family, as he is a blood relation; however at the same time he’s not quite a part of the family as “Pa always remembered, and was ashamed. And he was kinder to Noah than to the others” (106). Every time Pa looks at Noah, he can’t help but remember how he had pulled Noah’s body out of shape when he was born. Favoritism is typical in families; however, in Noah’s case, Pa’s version of favoritism comes out of a mixture of pity and remorse as he blames himself for everything that’s gone wrong in Noah.
When Noah chose to leave the family once they got to the river in California, Pa completely blames himself, “My fault,” he said miserably. “That boy is all my fault” (296). Noah can see that he is an outsider within the family, saying, “You know how the folks are nice to me. But they don’t really care for me” (284). He can see that although his parents are nice to him, his father is so overwhelmed with guilt that neither of his parents really love him as much as they potentially could, as Pa can’t see past the guilt and Ma can’t see past how the guilt they’ve both been carrying around has affected Pa’s decisions.
Upon the family’s arrival in California, they are told that they are unwanted, will forever be outsiders, and that they will be considered ‘Okies’ by a man they meet on the river bank. “Well, Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch…” (280). Noah is there when this is declared, and knows that he has become the outsider of a group of outsiders. The people in California do not want them to settle down and do everything they can to keep them out, even thinking of the people of Oklahoma as being people of a different country, as is shown by the sheriff who declares “You ain’t in your country now. You’re in California, an we don’t want you goddamn Okies settlin’ down” (291). He then tells the women of the family that if they stay to the next day, he’ll run them over with his car.
Noah’s manner of thinking is different from everyone else as he doesn’t understand emotions of anger and other extreme emotions, and this distances him from everyone around him. He lives in his own world where he just lets life pass by, not really making much of an effort to do anything to change it. He wants to be able to live a life where he can do whatever he wants and remain relaxed, which is why he chose to stay by the river. “Like to jus’ stay here. Like to lay here forever.
Never get hungry an’ never get sad. Lay in the water all life long, lazy as a brood sow in the mud” (178). He isn’t the type of person to show affection, and is baffled at people showing emotion, looking at them “as normal people look at the insane” (106). He’s not a proud person and “was a stranger to all the world, but he was not lonely” (106). which indicates that he was an outsider to humanity as well as to his family, and later, to the people of California.
All communities have their insiders and outsiders, otherwise they would be unable to consider themselves a community. It’s two sides of the same coin. Although Noah doesn’t seem particularly sharp, he is able to read into all the emotions of the other family members and the people surrounding him, and recognize that there is something that separates him from the others. All Noah really wants is to be able to live in peace doing whatever he wants. He wants a relaxed life where he doesn’t have the pressured of integrating himself into society.
America’s origins come from groups of people who came to escape persecution and seek freedom. In that manner, Noah is very American in that he wants that freedom. Furthermore, America has always been seen as the melting pot of culture and ideas, but there is also the dark side of that; the side where certain cultures, ideas, and personalities are shunned and excluded from this shiny ideal.