Tag Archives: Russia

the California Raisins? (Steinbeck in Little Miss Sunshine)

Does anybody remember the California Raisins — the singing, dancing raisins that seemed to be racially black? What was with that? So Strange!

Anyway, I chose that name to introduce a short list of how The Grapes of Wrath (GOW) drives the plot of Little Miss Sunshine (LMS). (A fun, great movie!) This is old news and has been written about seemingly much (see this or that). But I just want to add my list to the inter-webs because I like having things in list, easy-to-read formats. (NB: list not exhaustive!)

Following the list I have an original note of analysis about GOW which I have not found on Sparknotes, Cliffsnotes, or Wiki. That’s not to say it isn’t in any commentary but I hope not?

Starts with one member coming “back from the dead”
-Prison (GOW)
-Suicide attempt (LMS)
Family in dire circumstances living in Am. South/Southwest
Opportunity arises in California
Family takes long car trip to California
Granddad dies along the way
The Law and Corporate America trouble them along the way
Every member experiences tragic personal failure
Youngest member is their last hope but that member also fails
-Baby stillborn (GOW)
-Daughter loses competition (LMS)
The family unit is their salvation


Here’s my hopefully new (but probably not) insight into The Grapes of Wrath.

Rose of Sharon. Her family calls her “Rosasharn” as Steinbeck renders it. SPOILER! In the final scene she lends her breast to a starving man to try to nurse him back to health.

Now, it’s nothing extraordinary that she plays a Madonna kind of role. For Steinbeck, I feel like almost every female character is the Madonna.

However, consider her name. “Rosasharn.” Sounds an awful lot like nothing in English. But sounds strangely like “Russia” in Russian, which I might render phonetically “ros-ee-ya”. Not perfect, but close.

Steinbeck got into trouble with this book. He was labeled a communist for this and other writings. He certainly portrays capitalistic America very poorly.

The take-away, in my read, of The Grapes of Wrath, is that the Law, corporate America, and the rich will not help the poor; the poor must help each other. Rosasharn’s selfless act of nursing a starving man is the one glimmer of hope in this story of attrition. Her baby stillborn, her family penniless, she does what she can for another suffering family. I don’t know much about Steinbeck’s political ideas. I know in the end he visited Russia and Ukraine and wrote scathing pieces about what he really found there. But in the 1930s, it’s plausible that he was taken with the idea of a country where the poor rose up to take destiny into their own hands, while his own country was squashing the poor further into the dirt.

So, yes, Rosasharn is Mother Mary, but she is also Mother Russia.