The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath book cover
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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 out of revenge over the death of his friend Casy. He goes into hiding 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.

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List of Characters

Tom Joad Jr.

Tom Joad Jr. is the second son of the Joad family. He is passionate and impulsive. Initially self-centered, Tom proves to be the most dynamic character in the story and greatly changes throughout its events. At the beginning of the novel, Tom is released from McAlester Prison after having been incarcerated for four years in prison for killing a man in self-defense. Although Tom regrets having killed the man, he says that he knows he could do it again. (Read extended character analysis of Tom Joad.)

Jim Casy

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. (Read extended character analysis of Jim Casy.)

Rose of Sharon (Rosasharn)

Rose of Sharon, called “Rosasharn,” is the eighteen-year-old elder daughter of the Joad family. At the beginning of the novel, she is married to Connie Rivers and is pregnant with his child. Rosasharn is selfish and mostly concerned with her own needs and her child. She is womanly, demure, and serious. Despite her hardships, Rosasharn grows as a character and eventually learns to care for others over herself. (Read extended character analysis of Rosaharn.)

Ma Joad

Ma Joad is the matriarch of the Joad family. She is described as heavyset, calm, and wise. Ma is the healer, arbiter, and nurturer of the family. As such, she keeps the family together through her calm nature and ability to find humor. She understands that if she wavers, the family will fall with her. (Read extended character analysis of Ma Joad.)

Minor Characters

Tom Joad Sr. (Pa)

Tom Joad Sr., or Pa, is the patriarch of the Joad family. Initially a strong father figure, he is unable to provide for the family as life becomes more difficult. He finds that he cannot get a job and support the family like he used to. Disheartened, Pa steps down from being a leader of the family. In his place Ma takes over as the leader of the Joad family.

Granma Joad

Granma is similar to her husband and just as mean. She is religious and follows Christianity with a ferocious sort of violence. She is only able to get along with her husband through bickering and fighting. Granma survives the trip west for longer than Grampa does. However, she eventually becomes sickly and dies. Ma Joad pretends that Granma is still alive after her death in order to get the family quickly across the state border into California. After Ma Joad finally tells the family of her death, they leave Granma’s body at a coroner’s, because they are unable to afford a proper burial for her.

Grampa Joad

Grampa is described as ragged, lean, and quick. He is a mischievous, childlike, and angry man, who tells dirty stories and talks, eats, and drinks too much, if he can. Grampa refuses to go with the Joad family when they decide to leave west for California. The family ends up drugging him to make him sleep, and they take him along while he is unconscious. Grampa, however, becomes very sick early on in their travels. When he dies, the family is...

(The entire section is 1,975 words.)