Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Tom Joad, Jr.
Tom Joad, Jr., an ex-convict. Returning to his home in Oklahoma after serving time in the penitentiary for killing a man in self-defense, he finds the house deserted, the family having been pushed off the land because of dust bowl conditions and in order to make way for more productive mechanization. With Casy, the preacher, he finds his family and makes the trek to California in search of work. Tom kills another man when his friend Casy, who is trying to help migrant workers in their labor problems, is brutally killed by deputies representing the law and the owners. He leaves his family because, as a wanted man, he is a danger to them, but he leaves with a new understanding that he has learned from Casy: It is no longer the individual that counts but the group. Tom promises to carry on Casy’s work of helping the downtrodden.
Tom Joad, Sr.
Tom Joad, Sr., called Pa Joad, an Oklahoma farmer who finds it difficult to adjust to new conditions while moving his family to California.
Ma Joad, a large, heavy woman, full of determination and hope, who fights to hold her family together. On the journey to California, she gradually becomes the staying power of the family.
Rose of Sharon Rivers
Rose of Sharon Rivers, called Rosasharn, the married, teen-age daughter of the Joads. Her husband leaves her, and she bears a stillborn baby because of...
(The entire section is 758 words.)
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Jim Casy primarily functions as a device in The Grapes of Wrath, in that he plays into the novel's major themes. In one sense, the ex-preacher redefines the concept of faith, suggesting that true human divinity can only be found on earth, working collectively within a group. Casy is a philosopher, a prophet, a wise man, and finally a martyr as he rallies people to his cause – or tries to. It’s no coincidence that “Jim Casy” and “Jesus Christ” have the same initials, nor that Casy is so flawed.
Casy evolves along with Tom, opening the novel filled with uncertainty and emerging a folk leader and migrant organizer. As Tom discovers the truth – that life is far more complicated than any one theory – Casy exhibits that truth. Casy gives his life for his cause, inspiring Tom further to seek his own truths and forge his own brand of activism. Without Casy, Tom’s transformation might be possible, but it would be far less dramatic and even less believable.
Ma Joad makes her own transformation, although perhaps less dramatically than her son, Tom. As Pa Joad’s influence over the family grows weaker and weaker, Ma comes forward to take his place at the center of the family. No matter how bleak circumstances get on their journey west, Ma Joad stands up to every hardship and fights for her family. Ma shows the determination and spirit that characterized women of the period, who refused to see their families fall apart despite the poverty and difficulty at every turn. Steinbeck seems to have a reverent respect for Ma Joad, and he shows it in his depiction of her.
Ma Joad’s greatest strength may be shown as she and the family cross the desert. Ma knows that Granma is dead, yet she rides silently alongside her corpse so the family can make it to their “promised land.” When they reach the end of the desert Ma warns Tom not to touch her; she can only hold on to her strength and resolve if he doesn't reach out to her. Her ability to make painful decisions in the best interest of her family enables Ma to lead the Joads when Pa begins to hesitate and gives in to uncertainty.
Although Ma keeps her private emotions private, she is not a “loner.” On the contrary – she is the novel's strongest genuine supporter of family and togetherness. Casy may talk about collective action, but Ma believes in the power of...
(The entire section is 1235 words.)
The members of the Joad family occupy center stage in this story, and the reader's interest is directed to their growing realization of the hopelessness of their struggle. If any one character can be called central, it is Tom Joad, the second son whose return to the family home in Oklahoma after a four-year prison term opens the novel. The events of the novel lead him to a growing awareness of his responsibilities both to his family and to his fellow man. Ma Joad, too, grows during the course of the novel: She must learn to accept the disintegration of the family unit, something she struggles to protect, and to accept the notion that the Joads must meld into the larger community of migrant workers if they are to succeed.
One outsider also occupies a special place in the novel: the preacher Jim Casy. A man whose powerful sexual appetite had gotten him into trouble in his Oklahoma community, Casy begs to travel with the Joads to California so that he can help those less fortunate than himself. He ends up serving as a kind of minister, and at one point sacrifices himself so that Tom can escape prosecution for striking a deputy. Casy is eventually killed while trying to organize the workers. Some have seen him as a kind of Christ-figure in the novel. Certainly, the example of selflessness he provides causes Tom to realize the necessity for putting aside selfish interests for the good of the community.
Most of the others in this large cast of...
(The entire section is 373 words.)
Jim Casy accompanies the Joad family on their journey from Oklahoma to California. He is a former preacher who has given up both Christian fundamentalism and sexuality, and is ready for a new life dedicated to helping people like the Joads. He is honest, compassionate, and courageous. Casy’s new “religion” is based on love and a belief in each person’s soul as well as an all-inclusive soul, the “Holy Spirit” of humanity. As critics have noted, these non-secular views of humanity can be traced to the transcendentalist philosophy of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Casy is a new convert to this transcendentalism.
Casy’s initials (J. C.) have been cited as evidence that his character is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Moreover, his words and actions in the novel parallel those of Jesus Christ. For instance, he takes the blame for the deputy’s beating at the Hooverville, and is taken to jail instead of Tom. His selfless struggle eventually leads him to become a strike organizer and leader. He is killed for this activism, and his last words recall those of Christ on the cross: “You fellas don’ know what you’re doin’.” Through his actions, he helps Tom Joad to choose the same selfless path. Casy’s new personal identity is an expression of a larger self, although such self-realization earns society’s disapproval and is responsible for his...
(The entire section is 2104 words.)