Role of the Family Explored in Slapstick and Grapes of Wrath

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Role of the Family Explored in Slapstick and Grapes of Wrath

On Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the need for belongingness and love ranks only below the need for survival, making it one of our most basic needs (Weiten 267). Many people fill this need for affection by participating in a family unit. However, as the 20th century continues, the emphasis on family in America is decreasing. Divorce rates, single-parent households, and children born out of wedlock are all increasing. Furthermore, instead of the network of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other relatives that was prevalent in early America, Americans today are more distant from their extended family. As sociologist David Elkind said in a 1996 interview with
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Today's nuclear family with mom, dad, 2.3 kids, and dog only came into being just after the Industrial Revolution (Swerdolow 15). This leads to the idea that perhaps the desengration of the nuclear family isn't necessarily a negative things, but more of a retirement of a one way of life in favor of a new one. Even if this is true, the current period of decline still spurns numerous problems and attempted solutions.
The changing family isn't a new issue. Over twenty years ago, Kurt Vonnegut presented the idea of the artificial family in his book Slapstick. President Wilbur Swain, the central character in the novel, inacts a plan to bring all people in America together by giving them artificial families based on randomly assigned middle names; the program reaps both positive and negative results. Despite the many science fiction devices used in the book, the story shows Vonnegut's deep concern for the family unit. After being asked what was happening to America in an interview, Vonnegut responded by saying, "We're lonesome. We don't have enough friends and relatives anymore" (qtd. in Reed and Leeds 116) Almost twenty years before Vonnegut started publishing, John Steinbeck began to explore the changes taking place in the family during the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath. Though the book has many layers and themes, one of the major one's is the changing family. In 1933, six years before