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Free Study Guide-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Free BookNotes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The territory of The Grapes of Wrath is of epic proportions and is described in great detail. The setting includes a large part of Oklahoma, portions of other states, and a large area of California. The early narrative chapters focus on land near Sallisaw, in the east-central part of Oklahoma. The westward journey of the Joad family covers some eighteen hundred miles through portions of seven states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico, and California. The huge territory covered in chapters twelve to eighteen is described in great detail. Steinbeck lists names of places, state roads, and highways, as well as describing the national Highway 66, "the path of a people in flight," and the main route westward. The poetic descriptions of the land through which Highway 66 passes create a sense of expansiveness and spaciousness.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Pa Joad

A homesteader who, like hundreds of others, has lost his farm due to the dust storm in Oklahoma. He migrates with his family to California where he hopes to find work picking oranges. He loses his identity when his life as a farmer is disrupted, and he cannot adjust to the new circumstances which face him.

Ma Joad

A strong, stern woman who is the binding force of the family. Her concern for the family prompts her not to reveal that Granma has died until they have safely crossed the desert.

Grampa Joad

The grandfather and original settler of the farm which has been lost due to the dust storm in Oklahoma. He is the titular head of the family but no longer rules. Although he talks about how he will sit in a wash-tub full of grapes in California, when the time to leave arrives, he refuses to go and has to be drugged with medicine to be taken along. He dies on the first evening of their journey and is buried in a field beside the road.

Granma Joad

A firm believer in religion. She dies while the family cross the Californian desert.

Noah Joad

The eldest son who fulfills a minor role in the novel. He is unobtrusive and uncommunicative. Although not stupid, he is strange. Pa attributes Noah's strangeness to the night of his birth when Pa panicked and tried to pull and twist Noah during the delivery. Noah decides to stay by the Colorado River as he lacks the will power to continue the tiresome journey to California.


Tom Joad

The chief protagonist of the novel. He is the second son and makes his appearance in the novel after spending four years in McAlester, an Oklahoma state prison, for killing a man in a drunken brawl. His character undergoes development in the novel when he decides to act upon Casy's ideas and take over his work.

Rose of Sharon

The daughter of the Joads who is married to Connie Rivers. When Tom returns from prison, he finds her pregnant. She has great hopes about her life in California and tells Ma that she wants to live in a town rather than in the country with the family. Her child is stillborn and in the final pages of the novel, she is seen breast-feeding a starving man.

Al Joad

A sixteen year old boy. His only passion is girls and cars. Near the end of the novel Al announces his intention to marry Aggie Wainright.

Uncle John

Pa's brother. He suffers from a guilt complex about his wife's death and feels compelled to acts of fornication and drunkenness occasionally. He lives in the shadow of his sin and continually wonders whether his sins bring misfortunes on the family.

Connie Rivers

A sharp-faced, lean young man of nineteen. He is married to Rose of Sharon. He finds the journey to California very tough and abandons Rose of Sharon when they reach Hooverville.

Ruthie and Winfield Joad

The two youngest children. Ruthie aged twelve and Winfield aged ten are excited by the prospect of the journey to California. Both behave mischievously and are lively children.

Jim Casy

The preacher who baptized Tom Joad. He has given up his calling as a preacher because he felt hypocritical because of his promiscuity.

Minor Characters

Muley Graves

A lean, short man who lived near the Joads. When his family leaves for California, he refuses to go and stays behind, living an isolated existence. He shares his food with Tom and Casy.

Ivy and Sarah (Sairy) Wilson

The first couple that the Joads meet on their journey towards California. They are from Kansas and like the others are migrating westwards. The Wilsons help the Joads when Grampa dies. The Joads in turn repair the Wilsons' car and suggest that the two families travel together.

Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright

The family who share the opposite end of the boxcar with the Joads in the ending section of the novel.

Agnes Wainwright

The young woman who becomes engaged to Al Joad.

Ezra Huston

The Chairperson of the central committee in the government camp in California.

Willie Eaton

The man in charge of the entertainment committee who directs the actions against the rioters.

Jule Vitela

A half-Cherokee, mixed-blood Indian whom Tom meets at the labor camp. The guardians of the Weedpatch labor camp choose him when they need somebody with unusually keen senses to watch the gate during a dance.

The used-car salesman

A man who skillfully manipulates his clients and shows no concern for the people to whom he sells cars.

The gas station owner

A man who acts rudely to the Joads because he feels that they may not buy anything; when they make a purchase, he becomes friendlier.

The one-eyed wrecking-yard assistant

A spiritless and sullen man. His pessimism contrasts with the vigor of the Joads.

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