Notes on Characters from Grapes of Wrath

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Grapes of Wrath Major Characters

Tom Joad: In some ways the protagonist of the novel. Tom is a stable, independent man who does not like to get pushed around. He has been in jail for killing a man to protect himself. He feels no guilt for his actions, and only wants to get on with his life when he gets out, but he finds life is not the same. His family has been forced off their land and need his support as they move west. He dedicates himself to his family. As a migrant he looses all outward forms of dignity in order to survive. He is insulted, starved, and threatened. He kills Casy's murderer and is forced to live like an outlaw. While hiding he thinks over the philosophical ideas Casy has discussed with him, and adopts them as his own. He feels that he is part of all humanity. He decides to risk his life to organize the migrants.

Jim Casy: Former preacher turned philosopher. Casy develops his philosophy over the course of the book. He no longer feels Christian faith is very relevant to the plight of the common man. He believes there is no such thing as sin, and that life itself is the ultimate good. He feels that every man's soul is part of the greater soul of all things living. He goes to jail in place of Tom and there realizes the importance of organizing men to realize a goal. When he gets out he organizes a strike, and is murdered for his role. Tom picks up Casy's mission after his death.

Uncle John: Relative who accompanies the Joads on their trip. Uncle John is chronically guilty, because his young wife died when he neglected to get a doctor for her. He generally leads a quiet life, but sometimes he gets very depressed and drinks to excess or sleeps with prostitutes. He tries to make up for his sins by giving gifts to children. He rarely talks or complains.

Grampa : Lively, vulgar old man. Grampa delights in recounting his youthful exploits and using profane language. He and Granma are continually fighting. He says he plans to eat grapes in California, but when it comes time to leave he refuses to go. The family decides to drug Grampa to get him to leave and succeed in carrying him off the farm, but he dies of a stroke that evening.

Granma: Wild, coarse old woman. Granma claims to be religious although she also swears like Grampa. She insists that Casy pray at every opportunity. She and Grampa fight like animals. Once she shot him in the buttocks after a long argument, and he gained respect for her. She dies soon after Grampa does.

Ma Joad: The constant strength of the Joad family. She is a survivor whose motto is to take each day's troubles one at a time. She has a wealth of experience behind her that allows her to take every event as part of the whole stream of life rather than as a critical moment. She makes coolheaded decisions for her family and controls the expression of her own emotions for the purpose of calming her family. Her ultimate goal is to keep the family together, and she uses all her influence and understanding to do this. Ma is also the most generous, humane character in the novel. She gives anything her family can spare to those in need who they meet.

Pa Joad: Beaten farmer turned migrant. Pa does not understand the hard situation his family and all the migrants are in. He looks to Ma for guidance and follows her lead with minor protestations. He feels responsible for the survival of his family, but often has a defeated attitude. Ma riles him to anger to keep him from losing all hope. Pa's major original attempt to help the family is building a mud wall to keep a rising stream from flooding their campsite, but an uprooted tree destroys his work.

Al: Tom's younger brother. Al feels some responsibility for the welfare of the Joad family, and looks to them for approval, but his main interests are selfish. He spends all his free time chasing girls and his only dream is to work in a garage. He leaves the family when he marries the Wainwright's daughter, Aggie.

Rose of Sharon: Tom's younger, pregnant sister. Rose of Sharon is extremely self-centered. For the first part of the trip west, all she talks about are Connie and her plans for the future. After Connie leaves her she is constantly sick and morose, and interprets every situation as an affront to her fetus. After she bears a dead baby, her character changes. In her first unselfish act, she breastfeeds a starving man.

Landowner: A representative of the mass of property owners who shape the lives of the migrant workers. There are two types of landowners: successful men who own ever-expanding tracks of land, and independent farmers who are dominated by the others and gradually bought out. The first type is characterized as being insatiably greedy and distanced from the land and from other men. These landowners treat migrant workers as less than animals. They fear and hate them because they know hunger can drive the migrants to violence. The independent landowner bows to the wage cuts mandated by the Association of large landowners. This group of owners grows smaller as debt forces them to join the ranks of the migrants themselves.

Minor Characters

Truck driver: He allows Tom to hitch a ride despite the fact that the truck owners forbid it. The driver is very curious about Tom and proud of his ability to pin a man based on subtle clues. Tom ridicules him for his eagerness to show off his skill, but they part on good terms.

Muley Graves: A stubborn neighbor of the Joad family. Muley tells Tom where he can find his family when they meet at the deserted Joad house. Muley has also been evicted from his land but he refuses to leave the land where he grew up. Instead he evades the police and hunts for food. Muley shares what little food he has with Tom and Casy.

Noah Joad: Tom's older brother. Noah is a strange, listless fellow. He has the appearance of being deformed. When Noah was being born, Pa tried to pull him out before the midwife arrived and twisted his skull and body. Pa blames himself for Noah's odd behavior. Noah leaves the family to fend for himself at the California border. He says they will not miss him much.

Ruthie Joad: Tom's twelve-year-old sister. Ruthie is a wild child who joins in all of her younger brother's games, but she is also beginning to experience the embarrassments and responsibilities of a teenager. When Tom murders a man, she is trusted with the secret, but in a fight she threatens another girl with the information and Tom is forced to leave his family.

Winfield Joad: Tom's ten-year-old brother. He and Ruthie are playmates and rivals. They entertain each other and compete for the attention and approval of their family members.

Connie: Rode of Sharon's husband. Connie worships his wife at the beginning of the novel and dedicates his life to providing for her, but when he realizes that life is going to be tough in California he regrets not having taken a job driving a tractor in Oklahoma and deserts her. After he leaves, Pa says Connie was no good anyway.

The Wilsons: A couple with whom the Joad's caravan for the majority of the trip to California. Ivy and Sairy Wilson share the space in their car in exchange for the mechanical expertise Tom and Al have to offer them. They also allow Grampa to die in their tent and be buried in their quilt. Sairy is a sick woman and the Joads are forced to leave the Wilsons before they cross the California desert because Mrs. Wilson cannot go on. The Joads leave some food and money for the Wilsons.

Car Lot Attendant: One-eyed attendant of a junkyard where Tom and Al find a spare part for their truck. The attendant complains about his boss and his hard lot in life. Tom tells him to stop complaining and feeling sorry for himself and then tells him to wash his face and cover up his eye if he wants women to like him. The attendant gives them a good deal on several items to get back at his boss, but he cries himself to sleep that night.

Floyd Knowles: A young migrant who explains a lot about life in California to the Joads. He says there is little work, the authorities mistreat migrants, and there is no hope for organization. Later he gets into a predicament, which illustrates the conditions about which he has warned the Joads. Floyd is arrested unjustly when he complains about wages to a contractor and though he escapes a woman is shot carelessly in the process.

Ezra Huston: Manager of the government camp. Ezra greets Ma the morning after the Joads arrival. He quickly makes her comfortable despite the cold reception she gives him. He compliments her coffee and tells her the committees at his camp will understand her situation because they are made up of migrants. He makes her feel respectable for the first time since she left her home in Oklahoma.

Mrs. Sandry: An epileptic religious fanatic who lives at the government camp. Mrs. Sandry warns Rose of Sharon that engaging in sinful activities like music and dancing will cause her fetus to be damaged. She also tells Ma that all the people in the camp are black sinners and when Ma disagrees she slanders the Joads along with the rest.

Thomas: An independent farmer who is forced to lower the wages he will pay Tom because of an imposition by The Association of Farmers. He sympathizes with the migrant workers but is controlled by the competitive tactics of the larger landowners.

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