The central character of the novel, Tom is a recently-released inmate who returns home to find that his family has lost their farm and is moving west to California. He is a plainspoken and forthright man, yet he still retains some of his violent tendencies.
The mother of Noah, Tom, Rose of Sharon, Ruthie, and Winfield, Ma Joad is a woman accustomed to hardship and deprivation. She is a forceful individual who is determined to keep her family together at nearly any cost; however, she shows kindness to outsiders, even sparing what little the Joad family has for those even less fortunate.
Although Pa Joad is the head of the Joad household, he is not a particularly commanding presence. Without the ability to provide for his family, he recedes into the background, taking little initiative in deciding the fate of his relatives.
A morose man prone to depression and alcoholism, Uncle John believes that he is the cause of the family's misfortunes. He blames himself for the death of his wife, which took place several years before the story begins, and carries the guilt of that event with him.
Rose of Sharon
Tom Joad's younger sister, recently married to Connie Rivers and pregnant with Connie's child, Rose of Sharon is the one adult who retains a sense of optimism. She dreams of a middle-class life with her husband and child, but becomes paranoid and disillusioned when her husband abandons her upon reaching California.
The shiftless husband of Rose of Sharon, Connie dreams of taking correspondence courses that will provide him with job opportunities and the possibility of a better life. When he reaches California and does not find work, he immediately becomes disillusioned and abandons his pregnant wife.
Tom's older brother, Noah suffers from mental disabilities that can probably be traced to his birth. He leaves the family to live in isolation from society, supporting himself by catching fish.
Al is Tom's younger brother; at sixteen years old, he is concerned with cars and girls, and remains combative toward the rest of the family. Of the Joad family members, Al has the most knowledge of cars, and fears that the rest of the family will blame him if anything goes wrong. He dreams of becoming a mechanic and becomes engaged to Aggie Wainwright by the end of the novel.
One of the two small children in the Joad family, it is Ruthie who reveals that Tom is responsible for the murder at Hooper Ranch; this disclosure forces Tom to leave his family in order to escape capture by the police.
The other small child in the Joad family, Winfield becomes severely ill from deprivation, but survives his illness.
An energetic, feisty old man, Grampa refuses to leave Oklahoma with the rest of his family, but is forcibly taken on the journey after he is drugged by the other family members. Soon afterward, unable to bear leaving the area where he had long lived, Grampa dies of a stroke.
Granma Joad does not survive much longer than her husband. She becomes severely ill on the journey to California, and dies not long after her family reaches the state.
Reverend Jim Casy
A onetime preacher who too often succumbed to temptation, Casy left the ministry when he realized that he did not believe in absolute ideas of sin. He espouses the idea that all that is holy comes from collective society, a belief that he puts into practice when, after spending time in jail, he becomes involved with labor activists. Casy is a martyr for his beliefs, murdered during a confrontation with police.
Muley is a crazy elderly man who reveals to Tom Joad the fate of the Joad family. Having lost their home and farmland, Muley's wife and children left Oklahoma for California, but Muley decided to remain; he attempts to elude the police (who could arrest him for trespassing) and to live outside of society.
Sairy and her family aid the Joads when Grampa Joad has a stroke; the Wilsons then decide to continue with the Joads on the way to California, since the two families can help each other during the journey. Sairy falls ill at the first camp where the two families stay and remains there with the rest of her family, facing the possibility of arrest for trespassing.
The Mayor is a half-crazed old migrant worker who has had to endure continued torture by the California police.
Floyd befriends Al Joad and tells the Joad family about work opportunities, and about the government camp at Weedpatch.
Timothy and Wilkie Wallace
These two brothers are Weedpatch camp residents who take Tom to find work.
The contractor who hires Tom and the Wallaces, Mr. Thomas warns the men about the intruders who will interrupt the dance at the government camp.
Jessie is the head of the Ladies Committee at Weedpatch; she gives Ma Joad a tour of the facilities.
Ella is the assistant to Jessie Bullitt and a former head of the Ladies Committee; she frequently bickers with Jessie over insignificant details.
Jim is the manager of the camp at Weedpatch, and he treats the Joads with unexpected respect.
Lisbeth is a fundamentalist zealot who complains about the alleged sins that take place at the government camp, including dancing. She frightens Rose of Sharon with her admonitions about sin.
Ezra is the elected head of the Central Committee at Weedpatch. He advises Tom and the other men on how to deal with the situation at the Saturday dance.
Willie is the head of the Weedpatch entertainment committee. He defuses the problem raised by the intruders and the police during the dance.
Aggie is the young woman to whom Al Joad becomes engaged.
The Grapes of Wrath Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Grapes of Wrath is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The government is unable to keep up with the huge population moving west and setting up government camps is easier said than done. Camps of all kinds were appearing everywhere along the route. People had nowhere to go once they became aware the...
Steinbeck gives us a lot of detail. Sometimes it's Ma Joad's empathetic but worried face and sometimes it is a turtle on a road. The structure of his novel is built on detail as well as the Joad family's trip to California. Throughout the Joad...
Spring is beautiful in California, for the cultivation of the trees in the orchards is the responsibility of men of understanding, who experiment with the seeds and crops to make them resistant to insects and disease. Yet the fruits become rotten...