A Jim Casy
Jim Casy accompanies the Joad family on their journey from Oklahoma to California. He is a former preacher who has given up both Christian fundamentalism and sexuality, and is ready for a new life dedicated to helping people like the Joads. He is honest, compassionate, and courageous. Casy’s new “religion” is based on love and a belief in each person’s soul as well as an all-inclusive soul, the “Holy Spirit” of humanity. As critics have noted, these nonsecular views of humanity can be traced to the transcendentalist philosophy of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Casy is a new convert to this transcendentalism.
Casy’s initials (J.C.) have been cited as evidence that his character is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Moreover, his words and actions in the novel parallel those of Jesus Christ. For instance, he takes the blame for the deputy’s beating at the Hooverville, and is taken to jail instead of Tom. His selfless struggle eventually leads him to become a strike organizer and leader. He is killed for this activism, and his last words recall those of Christ on the cross: “You fellas don’ know what you’re doin’.” Through his actions, he helps Tom Joad to choose the same selfless path. Casy’s new personal identity is an expression of a larger self, although such self-realization earns society’s disapproval and is responsible for his murder.
B Muley Graves
Muley Graves is a classic example of the stubborn man; even his name is a pun on this trait. At the beginning of the novel, he refuses to leave Oklahoma. He is homeless and his isolation drives him somewhat insane. His pessimism and blind violence against “the Bank” and its representatives are rejected by the stronger Joads, whose essential optimism infuses their journey to California.
C Al Joad
Al Joad is the third Joad son; he is younger than Noah and Tom, to whom he looks for guidance. Al is fond of cars and girls. He assumes a greater position in the family because of his mechanical knowledge, but he is not always mature enough to deal with the responsibility. He helps drive the family to California. He wants to leave the family and go on his own, but duty and love force him to stay.
D Grampa Joad
Grampa Joad is rowdy and vigorous, like a “frantic child.” He refuses to leave the family’s farm in Oklahoma and has to be drugged so that the family can begin their journey. But Grampa’s vigor declines drastically when he leaves the land he has grown up on, and he dies on the first night of the trip. Both Granma and Grampa die because they are incapable of absorbing a new, difficult experience. In addition, Grampa’s stroke is probably caused in part by the “medicine” that Ma and Tom give him.
E Granma Joad
Granma Joad is deeply religious and energetic; she has thrived in her war of words with Grampa because “she was as mean as her husband.” She is unable to adapt to a new way of life and the loss of her husband. She dies as the family crosses the Mojave Desert, and her burial in a pauper’s grave violates her wishes. Her death outweighs the achievement of finally reaching California and foreshadows the reality to come.
F Uncle John Joad
John Joad, or Uncle John, is a prisoner of his guilt over his wife’s death years before. Uncle John’s melancholy balances the family’s experiences. His sense of guilt causes him to blame all the family’s misfortunes on what he thinks of as his sin: his failure to call a doctor when his wife complained of illness. As a result of this emotional scar, he has become an alcoholic. Uncle John’s lifelong sense of guilt is transformed into anger when he sets Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby afloat in a box on the river to remind townspeople that they are starving children by their failure to help the migrants.
G Ma Joad
Ma Joad is the matriarch and foundation of the Joad family. She is the basis for the family’s strength in the face of all their hardships. Ma Joad often behaves heroically for the sake of the family, yet she also expresses her fears. Nonetheless, Ma is brave and intelligent. She is an example of the indestructible woman who at times is ignorant, wary, and suspicious of strangers. She has much family pride and is active and assertive on their behalf.
Ma Joad displays numerous traditionally masculine qualities without losing her femininity or her maternal instinct. She assumes authority to prevent the weakening of the family unit. Once Ma Joad assumes the power as the head of the family, the others do not resist her. She passes her strength and wisdom on to her daughter, Rose of Sharon. Ma’s transformation is seen when she finally comes to accept commitments to people beyond her family. As she tells the Hooper store clerk, “I’m learnin’ one thing good…. If you’re in trouble or hurt or need-go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help-the only ones.”
H Noah Joad
Noah is the eldest Joad child. Slow, deliberate, and never angry, he is often mistaken as mentally challenged. Pa treats him kindly, because of his guilt over Noah’s birth; anxious from Ma’s struggles, Pa tried to help deliver Noah but injured his head in the process. Midway through the journey to California, Noah gives up the struggle to survive the arduous trip.
I Pa Joad
Before the Joad family leaves Oklahoma, Pa Joad is considered the head of the clan. As the family travels, however, Pa loses his authority in the family to Ma Joad and his son Al. Ma’s enduring faith in the family eventually gives her final say on decisions, while Al’s mechanical ability makes him important because the family needs the car for their journey to California. This loss of Pa Joad’s authority represents the shift in values within the family. Pa carries the family’s burdens, although he is constantly challenged by Ma. Each time Ma asserts her newfound leadership, she meets with Pa’s resentment. Nevertheless, he realizes that she has necessarily usurped his authority and does not act out his anger. His powerlessness is somewhat exorcised when he leads the boxcar migrants in a group effort to save their temporary homes from the flood. Throughout the novel, Pa’s common sense, dependability, and steadfastness contrast with Uncle John’s melancholy and Connie’s immaturity.
J Ruthie Joad
Twelve years old, Ruthie is the youngest daughter of the Joads. She is a selfish individual who has not learned her correct place in the social group. She learns a hard lesson when she is ostracized by the other children at the government camp for trying to take over their croquet game. In a childish fight, she reveals to another child that Tom has killed a man. This disclosure finally forces Tom to flee the family. Ruthie has a tendency towards cruelty that is aggravated by the family’s hard luck. Her childish behavior shows how poverty can make even an innocent person harsh.
K Tom Joad
Tom Joad killed a man in self-defense and has just been released from an Oklahoma state prison. Tom is depicted as wary, insensitive, skeptical, matter-of-fact, and confident. He has an ability to adapt and is a shrewd judge of character. At the beginning of the novel, Tom is only concerned with survival and keeping his prison record a secret. He is looking for peace and quiet at his family’s farm. He undergoes a transformation throughout the course of the novel; by the end of the story, he believes in the potential of humanity’s perfection and universality of spirit. Tom demonstrates this through social action, for instance, as he organizes the migrant farm laborers in California. Although Tom is emotionally numb from his experience in prison, he is by nature inquisitive: he always asks questions and is always seeking answers in life. Tom is forced to leave his family at the end of the novel.
L Winfield Joad
Ten-year-old Winfield is the youngest child of the Joad family. He is treated cruelly by his sister Ruthie, yet Winfield retains his innocence. Unlike their grandparents, who die when uprooted from Oklahoma, the youngest Joads are “planted” in California and will perhaps take root there, fulfilling Ma’s statement that “the people will go on.”
M Floyd Knowles
When the Joad family meets him outside of Bakersfield, Floyd Knowles tries to warn Al and the other men about the difficulties they will face in California. After Al helps him fix his car, he tells the family of potential work. When a contractor comes to the Hooverville to look for workers, Floyd’s questions lead the police to try to arrest him.
N Jim Rawley
A small, friendly man, Jim Rawley is the manager of the government camp. He makes Ma feel comfortable her first day at the camp, and his simple kindness almost drives Ma to tears. Even though Pa mistrusts him at first, to Ma he symbolizes the goodness of a community who allows the poor their dignity.
O Connie Rivers
Connie is Rose of Sharon’s nineteen-year-old husband who is “frightened and bewildered” by the changes his wife’s pregnancy created in her. He constantly talks of educating himself by correspondence in order to get a good job, but he is all talk and no action. He often tells Rose of Sharon that he should have stayed behind in Oklahoma and taken a job driving a tractor. Although he is described as “a good hard worker [who] would make a good husband,” he eventually deserts Rose of Sharon because he has no faith in the family’s struggle to find a better life in California. Connie’s values can be connected with those of “the Bank”: a focus on acquiring money and learning about technology in order to advance in the world. He also serves as a contrast and warning to Al Joad, whose fondness for the ladies could put him in the same situation. Unlike Connie, Al sticks it out with his family and wife.
P Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon is the oldest Joad daughter. Still a teen, she is already married and pregnant. Throughout most of the novel, she thinks only of herself and her unborn child. She is depicted as a sheltered and thoughtless teenager. Yet Rose of Sharon undergoes a transformation during her pregnancy, which coincides with the difficult journey to California.
With Ma’s guidance, she grows from child to adult. As she prepares to change roles from daughter to mother, she becomes “balanced, careful, wise.” She endures much hardship, including the birth of her stillborn child, and by the end of the novel, she is ready to take her place with Ma Joad as a pillar of the family. It is clear that Rose of Sharon will succeed Ma as matriarch; in fact, she becomes something of an extension of Ma. Right until the end of the novel, she is referred to as a girl, but in the final scene, Steinbeck makes clear that Rose of Sharon and Ma are equals. He writes, “and the two women looked deep into each other.” When Rose of Sharon feeds the starving man from her breast, she takes her place as the indestructible matriarch who, by her selfless act, comes to signify hope and survival of the people. It is through Rose of Sharon’s selfless human gesture that the author symbolizes and emphasizes the most effective method of survival against oppression and exploitation: that people must develop compassion for their fellow human beings.
Q Ivy and Sairy Wilson
Ivy and Sairy Wilson are a married couple that the Joads meet on the first night of their journey. They camp next to the Joads, and lend their tent to the sick Grampa, who subsequently dies. The Wilsons split from the Joads at California’s Mojave Desert, because Sairy Wilson is dying and is in too much pain to continue. That action contrasts with the Joads, who choose not to turn back in spite of death.