At a Glance

The Grapes of Wrath key characters:

  • In The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad, Jr. is an ex-convict who joins his family in moving to California in search of economic opportunity. Tom kills another man and leaves his family to help the downtrodden.

  • Jim Casy is a preacher who joins Tom Joad on the journey west. He is killed while trying to help migrant workers organize.

  • Ma Joad is a resilient woman who is devoted to her family. She believes in togetherness and makes difficult decisions for the good of others.

  • Pa Joad grows weaker over time and fails to provide for his family. Ma gradually takes responsibility for the group.

  • Rose of Sharon plays a symbolic role in the novel and represents womanhood, fertility, and hope.

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


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


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.