Characters are integral to a narrative, whatever genre it may take. They play an important role in the evolution of social issues, themes, and motifs. The characters in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck also show the role that they played during the changes in the agricultural industry, Dust Bowl storms, and economic challenges in the 1930s in the United States. Some of the characters of The Grapes of Wrath have been analyzed below.
Characters in The Grapes of Wrath
Tom Joad reflects the philosophy of John Steinbeck during his self-development and mental growth. Tom Joad, though short-tempered, is often portrayed as a merciful and kind soul. He stands in contrast to Jim Casy, who is only an observer of prevalent conditions, while Tom demonstrates his resilience and wants a better future. Even the four-year prison term does not change his morality. When the whole family decides to move to California after losing their farm, he leads the family through thick and thin. Tom faces many tragedies As they travel west, passing through various situations, he understands that “’Maybe all men got one big soul ever’ body’s a part of.” Finally, at the Weedpatch, he joins the Farmer’s Association and learns to serve humanity. However, he indebted to Jim Casy for teaching him to make collective efforts for the survival and well-being of humanity in the final chapters.
Jim Casy is an effective preacher and teacher who is compared to Jesus. He is was mostly passive, trying to reconcile with his own interpretations of religion. He has come to understand the Emersonian philosophy that all souls relate to a great human spirit, which means to work for the betterment of humanity. His action of sharing his theological concepts with short-tempered Tom plays an important part in molding Tom into a pragmatic and socialist worker. Jim Casy sacrifices himself to save Tom for the welfare of the people. Although Tom faces jail for deputy’s murder, Casy’s teachings stay with him, which shows the effectiveness of his philosophical concepts. In the end, Tom vows to spread his ideas to the world for social justice for the people.
She is the primary caretaker of the family. Her first obligation is to provide food, support, and emotional assistance. Through her, the family pain comes to light. She makes them realize the situation but also makes them laugh. She demonstrates the idea of love that Casy enunciates. Besides taking care of her family, along with Tom, she also takes care of others. She keeps the family united when they leave for California. She becomes an active leader and takes over the role of Pa Joad and rejects Tom’s suggestion of breaking up the family for survival. Her concern not only expands to the family but also the only breadwinner, Tom. She also helps Pa at the Weedpatch. Her efforts to advise Rosasharn stems from this natural thinking.
Pa Joad plays an important role in demonstrating the thematic strand of humanity and human dignity. He seems bewildered after the loss of his farm as well as the loss of his role as the primary caretaker of the family when they are uprooted. He delegates his patriarchal powers to Tom or Ma when he sees himself helpless against the disasters that struck the family. Losing his productivity makes him passive and angry, but he does not react. Tom’s conversation sufficiently provides his picture as an independent and powerful man before his farm was gone.
Rose of Sharon
Among the least likable characters, Rose Sharon or Rosasharan is not only sulky but also has an overstated sense of her significance. Despite witnessing disasters, she and her husband care little for others and carry on with their fantasies of married life and possibilities of the future. Her obsession with associating everything that happens to her family to her unborn child makes her indifferent. This annoyance leads to self-pity over time, as she witnesses more difficulties mounting the family. Though pregnancy changes her behavior a bit, she takes the notion of serving humanity spread by Casy and offers her milk to a dying man to save his life. It shows her humanity and maternal instinct to help another person.
A highly colorful and down-to-earth factual character, Grandpa not only behaves outrageously but also swore and bragged heavily about his past exploits. Although he demonstrates the courage of leaving his home for some other place, he has no heart for that. He refuses to depart from the place he has spent his life. He suffers a stroke on the way and breathes his last. However, his shadow on the family continues to travel with it.
Granma Joad is a chirpy and crotchety character whose comic spirit serves as a tragic relief to the saga of the family forced to leave the long-held home. Whenever Casy stops during grace, she utters praise to God though it is not a traditional type of grace. Her sense of humor, at least, for the reader stays even when grampa Joad dies. She taunts Casy to pray for him. She also dies on their way to California.
Although Noah is the eldest brother of Tom, he is strangely disconnected from his family. However, it is interesting that it does not reveal his true nature and purpose behind his strange decision of leaving the entire family for the life of a recluse. Even after his admission, he is surprised that everyone is nice to him. Despite Tom’s best efforts, he refuses to go with the family.
Uncle John Joad
John Joad is not an interesting character. He had the responsibility of his pregnant wife’s death and refused to call a doctor. He assumes she is merely going through stomach pain. Later he feels remorse and becomes an alcoholic. When the whole family faces the crisis of migration, it becomes more overwhelming. His future is left unknown.
Oscillating between teenager and childhood, Ruthie is often childish but sometimes become domineering when it comes to her brother. Her behavior leads to estrangement when other children of her age stop coming to her. Her stupidity becomes obvious when she reveals that Tom murdered a person and is hiding somewhere close to home.