The Grapes of Wrath Important Characters

Tom Joad

Tom Joad is going home to be with his family, after four years in prison. He was sent to prison, because he killed a man in a drunken brawl. He comes home to find it deserted, but soon finds his family, as they are about to embark on a journey across the country from Oklahoma to California. They are looking for new life there, after being thrown off their farm by the bank, which owns the land. These events take place during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

Tom is young and impetuous, which means he sometimes has trouble controlling his reactions to situations and people. This causes trouble for the family after he kills a man. His friend Jim Casy is killed by strike breakers in California, after which Tom, in a rage, kills the man who murdered Casy. After this incident, Tom has to go into hiding and the family helps him. Tom is seen by his parents as the child they can most rely on for help during trying times. He makes some important decisions, such as where they should stay and look for work. Tom deep inside is a good man who wants to help his family and friends. He is likeable and dependable when the situation calls for him to be there for others. But, when he sees someone taking advantage of others or is attacked, either verbally or physically, he is quick to respond. His response can take the form of either physical or verbal abuse, which is dangerous, because if he is arrested he can be sent back to prison. This is because he is violating his parole by being outside of Oklahoma.

Ma Joad

Ma Joad is the matriarch of the Joad family. She is in charge of Grampa, Granma, her 6 children, and her son-in-law. She is a strong-willed woman, who knows what is necessary to keep the family fed and on the move. She dreams of having a white house of her own to live in in California. As Pa becomes more and more beaten down by the depressing situation in California, Ma comes into her own and eventually becomes the decision maker for the household. Pa notices her new position in the family, but he recognizes he is no longer the man he once was. He also sees the need for someone to step up and take charge of the family. Ma is transformed by the dreadful living conditions of the camps and becomes a little meaner, a little tougher, and a little more self-sufficient. She is the one who decides what needs to be done after Tom kills the strike breaker and she decides when the family needs to leave the boxcar during the flood. She learns to stand up to the police and to the women at the camps. Her life revolves around one idea-keeping her family together. Unfortunately, she is unable to that as Grampa and Granma die, Noah her oldest child leaves, and Tom goes on the run from the police. Her heart is broken by each of these events, which hardens her a bit more with each loss. She is changed by these losses and therefore able to carry on, after the stillbirth of her daughter's baby.

Pa Joad

Pa's life has taken a path he never imagined it would in his whole life. He thought he would spend his life on his farm tending the crops and raising his family. He did not anticipate the changes the Dust Bowl would bring to his and his family's life. He is resigned to his fate by the time Tom comes home from prison.

Pa is deeply in love with Ma, as can be seen by the way in which the two of them interact. Even when they disagree, he shows compassion and understanding towards her point of view. He also loves his children and wants the best he can provide for them. This is why the journey to California is so hard for him. The flyers that were spread around town promised lots of work at good wages, but the opposite is true. This almost breaks Pa's resolve, because he cannot find work and the family has to do with minimal food and poor living conditions. A man is often defined by his ability to provide for his family. In the era of the Dust Bowl this is even truer than it is now. The inability for Pa to find work and provide for his family, is a blow to inner core of who he is. But, Pa does rally and tries to help protect the families who are living in the boxcars, by organizing the men to build a mud wall to stop the flood waters. The failure of the wall is not a failure of Pa's abilities, but an act of nature. He does allow Ma to make the next decision for the family. Which is the right decision of leaving the boxcars and finding shelter in the barn. Pa is a good man, who is put in terrible circumstances.

Jim Casy

Casy is a former preacher, who is the first familiar face Tom sees, after being released from prison. Casy has decided the life of a preacher is not for him, because he felt guilty for laying with teenage girls after each of his revival meetings. He wanders in the wilderness and tries to find his path in life. He decides to ride with the Joad family to California, so he can help the migrant workers. He is a man who is fighting his own need to satisfy his desires and yet be a good person.

He feels guilty for not paying his way to California, so he takes the blame for a fight in which Tom is involved. Casy goes to jail for the fight, but is released and becomes a strike organizer for the workers. He sees how much more power there is in a group effort for change, than in just one person seeking change, but he is killed for his efforts by a strike breaker. Tom who witnessed the murder of Casy, kills the murderer and becomes a fugitive. Casy is a man who wanted to live life helping others, while having some fun along the way.


Rosasharn is Tom's sister, she is also referred to as Rose of Sharon in the book. She is married to Connie River and expecting their first child. Rosasharn and Connie are riding with the family to California. She is happy about the baby and is full of plans for her and her husband. They want to rent a house in the city and her husband will own his own shop. They have their whole lives planned out for themselves, until the night Connie tells her they should have stayed in Oklahoma. This is because he is having a hard time adjusting to life in the camps. He takes a walk that night and never returns. For a while she holds out hope for his return and then realizes he isn't coming back. She tries to help out the family, but is sick most of the time. She and her mother do not always get along, because Rosasharn is not as industrious as her mother would like her to be. After becoming ill, she has her baby prematurely; the baby is stillborn. She has to accept this and the next day walk to higher ground with her family, because of the flooding. She in the end saves a man's life, by nursing him with the mother's milk she thought would go to her child. The man is starving to death and the only milk available is the milk Rosasharn carries within her. Rosasharn is a young person who has the cruelties of life thrust upon her too fast and at a very young age.

Uncle John

Uncle John took in the Joad family, after they were thrown off their farm. He lived alone and was a man who suffered from depression. He carried the guilt of his wife's death with him. His wife was expecting a child and told him she needed to see the doctor, because she felt ill. Uncle John felt she didn't need a doctor, but she was actually very ill and she died. He felt responsible for her death, so he tried to make up for it by helping children. He would not have much to do with people, he would just leave gifts for children. He also had a drinking problem, which he did try to fight. He went with the family to California and did his best to help make money. In the end, he was the one who set Rosasharn's stillborn baby adrift in the stream, so the townspeople could see what was happening to the migrant families.

Al Joad

Alan Joad is Tom's teenage brother, who is able to fix just about anything. He is especially skilled with engines, which comes in handy on the trip to California. He not only keeps the family truck running, but he also helps to keep other people's vehicles running. He is especially helpful to the Wilsons. This is a couple they meet as they camp along the road one night. Their car has broken down and they do not know how to fix it. Al fixes it and the two families travel together for a while. Al's other major interest is girls. He likes to go after as many girls as he can. In the end he becomes engaged to Aggie Wainwright, whose family shares the boxcar with the Joad family. Al is a nice young man, whose dream is to become a mechanic.

Ruthie and Winfield Joad

They are the youngest members of the Joad family. The trip out west had the largest impact on their lives. They can no longer go to school and instead have to help out in the fields. They think the trip will be a fun adventure at first, but as food becomes scarce and the living conditions become abysmal, the fun disappears. They have to grow up fast and deal with the deaths of their grandparents, their brothers Noah and Tom leaving the family, and the death of Rosasharn's baby. They do provide some comic relief, such as their reaction to seeing a flushing toilet for the first time. They think they have broken the toilet when the water flushes out of it down the septic pipe. These two children, even though they bicker, are also each other's best friend.

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