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Free Study Guide-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Free BookNotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Pa Joad

Pa has a weaker personality than Ma Joad. He undergoes a loss of identity when his stable life as a farmer is destroyed; he does not adapt to the new migrant way of life. He continues to live in the past and cannot face the present circumstances. He is the helpless victim of an indifferent environment. He cannot understand the new forces of capitalism and market economy blowing across the country, which hold profit as the sole motive of business. His foolishness is shown when he sells the entire belongings of the Joads for a mere eighteen dollars.

Despite his shortcomings, Pa is a good man who is not afraid of hard work. He is not lazy or predisposed to leisure. His concept of family is more constricted than that of Ma. Pa questions whether they can afford to take Casy along and wonders if they will be able to feed an extra mouth. His primary concern is only for the immediate family members. He is more self-absorbed than Ma, who shows no hesitation in taking the ex-preacher along.

Pa cannot detach himself from the past and the land, which he has cultivated. He spends all his free time thinking about how it used to be. He relinquishes his nominal authority over the family and looks to Ma for direction in making decisions. He sadly remarks, "Funny! Woman takin' over the fambly. Woman sayin' we'll do this here, an' we'll go there. An' I don' even care." Ma consoles him by saying that women adapt themselves to changing circumstances more readily than men. Pa's sole effort of building a mud embankment proves futile, and he is unable to check the advancing flood waters in the box car camp. The Pa who was earlier offended by Ma's authority, at the end of the novel, meekly obeys her decision that they must move to a safer and drier shelter.


Pa never shows any awareness of the implications of Casy's philosophy. He is merely concerned with himself and shows no desire to sacrifice for others. As Tom accurately observes, Pa is merely concerned with earning his own meal even if it is at the expense of others. Throughout the novel, he never acts for the good of humanity at large.

Grampa and Granma Joad

Grampa and Granma are vividly depicted. Grampa has a cantankerous, complaining, mischievous, laughing face. "He fought and argued, told dirty stories. He was as lecherous as always. Vicious and cruel and impatient, like a frantic child, and the whole structure overlaid with amusement." Grampa retains his position as the titular head of the family, but no longer makes any decisions. When the Joads gather around the truck in a family council to decide about when to leave for California, Grampa has the right to make the first comment. He has a strong affection for Granma, but he glories himself in provoking her. As Granma is fiercely religious, he derives immense pleasure in talking about his past escapades. Grampa refuses to leave the land, which he settled, and when the time to leave arrives, he has to be drugged and physically carried to the truck. But he belongs with the land and dies on the very first night of the journey. He is buried alongside the road in Oklahoma.

Granma has survived "only because she was as mean as her husband. She has held her own with a shrill, ferocious religiosity that was as lecherous and as savage as anything Grampa could offer." Granma is fervent in her beliefs. She asks Casy to say grace before breakfast and orders him to pray when Grampa is dying. Her life loses meaning with the death of Grampa, and she dies soon after his death. Ma regrets that neither Grampa nor Granma survived to see the fertile Californian valleys. Tom rightly perceives that both of them were too advanced in age to confront any new experiences.

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