Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

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

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 hardships she endures. As the story ends, she gives her own milk to save the life of a starving man.

Noah

Noah, the slow-witted second son of the Joads. He finally wanders off down a river when the pressures of the journey and his hunger become too much.

Al

Al, the third son of the Joads. In his teens, he is interested in girls and automobiles. He idolizes his brother Tom.

Ruthie

Ruthie, the pre-teen-age daughter of the Joads.

Winfield

Winfield, the youngest of the Joads.

Uncle John

Uncle John, the brother of Tom Joad, Sr. He is a lost soul who periodically is flooded with guilt because he let his young wife die by ignoring her illness.

Grampa Joad

Grampa Joad, who does not want to leave Oklahoma and dies on the way to California. He is buried with little ceremony by the roadside.

Granma Joad

Granma Joad, also old and childish. She dies while crossing the desert and receives a pauper burial.

Jim Casy

Jim Casy, the country preacher who has given up the ministry because he no longer believes. He makes the trek to California with the Joads. He assumes the blame and goes to jail for the crime of a migrant worker who has a family to support. He is killed as a “red” while trying to help the migrant workers organize and strike for a living wage.

Connie Rivers

Connie Rivers, Rosasharn’s young husband, who deserts her after arriving in California.

Floyd Knowles

Floyd Knowles, a young migrant worker with a family, called a “red” because he asks a contractor to guarantee a job and the wages to be paid. He escapes from a deputy sheriff who is attempting to intimidate the workers. Tom Joad trips the deputy, and Jim Casy kicks him in the back of the head.

Muley Graves

Muley Graves, a farmer who refuses to leave the land although his family has gone. He remains, abstracted and lonely, forced to hide, hunted and haunted.

Jim Rawley

Jim Rawley, the kind, patient manager of a government camp for the migrant workers.

Willy Feeley

Willy Feeley, a former small farmer like the Joads; he takes a job driving a tractor over the land the Joads farmed.

Ivy Wilson

Ivy Wilson, a migrant who has car trouble on the way to California with his sick wife Sairy. The Joads help them, and the two families stay together until Sairy becomes too ill to travel.

Sairy Wilson

Sairy Wilson, Ivy’s wife. When the Wilsons are forced to stay behind because of her illness, she asks Casy to pray for her.

Timothy Wallace

Timothy Wallace, a migrant who helps Tom Joad find work in California.

Wilkie Wallace

Wilkie Wallace, his son.

Aggie Wainwright

Aggie Wainwright, the daughter of a family living in a box car with the Joads while they work in a cotton field. Al Joad plans to marry her.

Jessie Bullitt

Jessie Bullitt,

Ella Summers

Ella Summers, and

Annie Littlefield

Annie Littlefield, the ladies’ committee for Sanitary Unit Number Four of the government camp for migrant workers.

The Grapes of Wrath Character Analysis

Jim Casy
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
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 togetherness and the strength of a family. Steinbeck manages to make Ma a symbol of selfless sacrifice without making her a martyr. She is a common-sense character, which allows her to avoid sentimentality. The best example of this is the scene at the end of the novel when she silently gives her daughter permission to breast-feed the starving man.

Ma Joad proves that the most heart-breaking, difficult circumstances can be faced head-on and survived with one’s dignity very much intact. All she expects in return from her family is that they stick together.

Pa...

(The entire section is 1235 words.)

The Grapes of Wrath Characters

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...

(The entire section is 373 words.)

The Grapes of Wrath Characters

Jane Darwell, Henry Fonda, and John Carradine (left to right) in the 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath. Published by Gale Cengage

Jim Casy
Jim Casy accompanies the Joad family on their journey from Oklahoma to California. He is a former preacher...

(The entire section is 2087 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear, Michael Foster