Last Updated on February 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582
Extended Character Analysis
Jim Casy is a former preacher and friend to the Joad family. He is a kind and thoughtful man, who spends a great amount of time reflecting on his actions and the world around him. He engages constantly in an internal struggle with his ideologies. Near the end of the novel, Casy becomes a strong and influential man of action.
Jim Casy as a Flawed Man of Faith
Casy left the church after becoming unsure of his Christian religious practices and beliefs. Casy feels that his heart is no longer in the Christian religion. He also struggles with his past actions, feeling that he acted hypocritically.
Despite having left the church, Casy's role within The Grapes of Wrath parallels that of the biblical Jesus Christ: from sharing the same initials to wandering alone in contemplation to making the ultimate sacrifice.
However, Casy’s religious theory is that humans on earth are truly divine. He claims that he doesn’t love Jesus, as he doesn’t “know nobody name’ Jesus.” Casy's morality is not binary; he doesn’t see people or things as black or white, good or bad. His theory lies in the gray area, accepting of all people and actions, seeing good and bad things as just “stuff people do.” Casy chooses to love people as they are, even if some are bad and sinful. Casy is a teacher and helper to many throughout The Grapes of Wrath, as he strives to help those who are less fortunate until his death.
Jim Casy as a Mentor to Tom Joad
Casy is a mentor for Tom Joad. He teaches Tom the value of community and instills in him a passion for taking action for the good of the people. Casy’s actions and teachings are responsible for Tom’s character growth throughout the novel, culminating in Casy's death near the end.
Casy serves as a foil to Tom for the majority of the novel as well. Casy is reflective and ideological, often thinking things through and making moral observations. Tom, on the other hand, is active and intuitive, and he tends to act before thinking through the consequences of his actions. For all that Casy teaches Tom, Casy also acquires some of Tom’s pragmatism and passion near the end of The Grapes of Wrath, when he attacks the deputy and later helps the farm laborers unionize.
Jim Casy as a Martyr
After spending much of the novel engaging in reflection, Jim Casy starts taking action to help those around him. In so doing, however, Casy sacrifices himself.
First, he takes the blame for Floyd Knowles and is taken to jail in his place. Second, he dies in an altercation during the effort to help the migrant laborers unionize. These selfless actions result in his death and turn him into a martyr. Because Casy dies for the people, this serves as another parallel to the biblical Jesus Christ. Casy’s last words are “you don’ know what you’re a-doin’,” which echo Jesus’s words while on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’s words request mercy for those who hurt and reviled him, and Casy similarly shows mercy in the last moments of his life.
After Casy’s death, Tom decides to follow in Casy’s footsteps, hoping to help those in need. Casy’s unorthodox religious understanding and overall belief in the importance of protecting and supporting community aid in Tom’s personal growth.