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

Al Joad

Al is the sixteen-year old brother of Tom. His chief interests seem to be girls and cars. He feels responsible for the Hudson that the Joads buy and tells Tom it is part of his soul. Al admires Tom and uses the notoriety of his elder brother to gain popularity. From the very beginning of the novel, he wants to leave the family and work in a garage. At the novel's end, he announces his decision to leave the family and stay back with Agnes Wainwright, the girl he proposes to marry. He fulfills a minor role in the novel.

Jim Casy

Casy is viewed as a Christ figure. As an ex-revivalist preacher, he has rejected the formal Christianity, which he once preached. He, like Christ, goes into the wilderness to think things out. He realizes that there is no sin and no virtue--only action. Some actions are nice and some are not nice. He bases his philosophy on the love of people and remarks that "maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy spirit--the whole shebang. Maybe all people got one big soul ever'body's a part of." He thus arrives at the Emersonian philosophy of the Oversoul. In the early stage of the novel, Casy is still the contemplative person. He realizes that his calling lies with the people on the road and accompanies the Joads on their journey to California.


Casy fulfills his commitment to help the Joads by surrendering himself for arrest in order to protect Tom. Casy then goes to jail and learns that the poor must unite together to bring about social change. This marks the beginning of the movement from "I" to "we." He tells Tom that when a single prisoner protested against the poor quality of food, nothing happened. But when all the prisoners unitedly complained, the quality of the food improved substantially. Casy then realizes that his mission in life is to organize the migrant farm workers into unions so as to improve their living conditions. He knows that by organizing a strike he is possibly endangering his own life. Like Christ, he will gladly sacrifice himself for the good of others.

Casy preaches a religion of love. He realizes that humankind as a whole comprises an organism just like the other social units of family, corporation, union, and state. He feels a kinship with all people and sees all acts of living as holy. His belief that individual family interests should be subordinate to the common welfare of humanity and his belief that all individual souls are part of one big soul parallels Jesus' rejection of family bonding for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. Casy's initials, J.C., correspond to those of Jesus Christ. He dies in a Christ-like manner saying to his murderers that they do not know what they are doing. His message reaches the public only after his death. Tom, Casy's disciple, carries out the work outlined by him.

Casy's religion bears a striking contrast to the fierce religiosity of Granma, the dogmatic hell and brimstone religion of the preachers who work on peoples' fear, and the fanaticism of Mrs. Sandry. His function in the novel is to act as the mouthpiece of the proletarian message and to provide a juxtaposition to the Joads. The development in Tom's character can only be seen by contrasting his former egocentric self with his later adoption of Casy's philosophy. Casy's philosophy also guides Ma's actions.

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