Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Frank Galati’s stage adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel about the Great Depression takes a large array of characters and narrows it down to a number that is manageable for presentation on stage. The Joad family remains central, but many minor characters are omitted as the story is also streamlined. Some characters are set in the original Oklahoma Dust Bowl location, while most of them are involved in the westward migration.
Tom Joad is the protagonist. Originally in the position of elder son, he becomes his family’s leader after his father dies. As the play opens in Oklahoma, Tom is returning home after four years’ incarceration for a self-defense killing. The bank has foreclosed on the family farm, so Tom joins his family; they leave for California the next day. On their journey, Tom kills a man while trying to defend his friend Jim and is inspired to become an activist.
Other members of the Joad family who figure in the play are Pa and Ma, Granpa and Granma, Al, and Noah, and Rose of Sharon.
Granma dies while they are on the road, but Ma continues to carry her body until California.
Rose of Sharon (Tom’s sister), who is married to Connie, is a Madonna figure. She is pregnant when they leave and, after giving birth while they are traveling, nurses a starving man from her breast.
Muley Graves, a neighbor of the Joads, decides to remain in Oklahoma because he cannot bear to leave the family’s land.
Jim Casy is a preacher in Oklahoma who leaves with the Joads on their migration. After deflecting separating from them, he becomes a labor agitator and is murdered.
Floyd is a resident of a temporary town, or “Hooverville,” where the Joads stop. His disagreement with another newcomer and a sheriff’s deputy jeopardize the Joads when Tom intervenes.