Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Mac, a communist labor organizer who organizes a fruit-pickers’ strike. After many hardships, in the face of starvation and imminent eviction, the strike seems doomed. Then Mac rallies the strikers with a stirring speech over the body of his friend and co-organizer, Jim Nolan, who is shot when he and Mac are enticed into a trap.
Jim Nolan, the friend and co-organizer, who is finally killed. The son of a workingman whose death was caused by policemen’s blows, he has come to communism by way of starvation and early ill-treatment.
London, the leader of the fruit pickers.
Doc Burton, a philosopher and skeptic. He does much to maintain the sanitation of the camp and the strikers’ health during the strike. Things worsen after his disappearance. It is in response to a report that he is lying wounded in a field that Jim and Mac rush out into the trap in which Jim is killed.
Al Townsend, the owner of a lunch cart. He gives handouts to the strikers, for whom he feels sympathy. His father permits the strikers to camp on his farm.
Lisa London, the daughter of the camp leader. Mac’s influence around the camp greatly increases after he, giving the impression he is a doctor, delivers Lisa of a baby.
Joy, an old...
(The entire section is 269 words.)
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Two characters dominate this book: veteran Communist Party worker Mac, and his protégé, Jim Nolan. Mac displays all the characteristics of the dedicated Party man: unswervingly loyal to the Party's aims, selfless in his service to the cause, willing to use any circumstance to further the Party's ends. Beneath his tough exterior, however, he has some sensitivity for the people he exploits, and occasionally he lets his emotions overcome the calculated reason which he knows must dominate his actions if he is to be successful in bringing about the system to which he is openly committed.
Jim, on the other hand, grows from an emotionally immature and embittered young man into a genuinely committed and unemotional devotee to the Communist ideal. The novel shows him shedding his emotional attachment to individuals and dramatizes his growing awareness of the importance of revolutionary ideology over personal relationships. He learns to manipulate others, and to put aside his concern for their suffering; in fact, he becomes hardened to others' plight except as it affords him an opportunity to promote strife that challenges the capitalist owners of the farms against which the migrants strike.
Steinbeck also gives brief but penetrating sketches of various leaders of the migrants. Especially significant are his portraits of London and Dakin, rivals for leadership in the strikers' camp. The reader can see what motivates these men to sacrifice the little...
(The entire section is 270 words.)