The novel’s protagonist, and Ma and Pa Joad’s favorite son. Tom is good-natured and thoughtful and makes do with what life hands him. Even though he killed a man and has been separated from his family for four years, he does not waste his time with regrets. He lives fully for the present moment, which enables him to be a great source of vitality for the Joad family. A wise guide and fierce protector, Tom exhibits a moral certainty throughout the novel that imbues him with strength and resolve: he earns the awed respect of his family members as well as the workers he later organizes into unions.
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The mother of the Joad family. Ma is introduced as a woman who knowingly and gladly fulfills her role as “the citadel of the family.” She is the healer of the family’s ills and the arbiter of its arguments, and her ability to perform these tasks grows as the novel progresses.
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Ma Joad’s husband and Tom’s father. Pa Joad is an Oklahoma tenant farmer who has been evicted from his farm. A plainspoken, good-hearted man, Pa directs the effort to take the family to California. Once there, unable to find work and increasingly desperate, Pa finds himself looking to Ma Joad for strength and leadership, though he sometimes feels ashamed of his weaker position.
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A former preacher who gave up his ministry out of a belief that all human experience is holy. Often the moral voice of the novel, Casy articulates many of its most important themes, among them the sanctity of the people and the essential unity of all mankind. A staunch friend of Tom Joad, Casy goes to prison in Tom’s stead for a fight that erupts between laborers and the California police. He emerges a determined organizer of the migrant workers.
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Rose of Sharon
The oldest of Ma and Pa Joad’s daughters, and Connie’s wife. An impractical, petulant, and romantic young woman, Rose of Sharon begins the journey to California pregnant with her first child. She and Connie have grand notions of making a life for themselves in a city. The harsh realities of migrant life soon disabuse Rose of Sharon of these ideas, however. Her husband abandons her, and her child is born dead. By the end of the novel, she matures considerably, and possesses, the reader learns with surprise, something of her mother’s indomitable spirit and grace.
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Tom Joad’s grandfather. The founder of the Joad farm, Grampa is now old and infirm. Once possessed of a cruel and violent temper, Grampa’s wickedness is now limited almost exclusively to his tongue. He delights in tormenting his wife and shocking others with sinful talk. Although his character serves largely to produce comical effect, he exhibits a very real and poignant connection to the land. The family is forced to drug him in order to get him to leave the homestead; removed from his natural element, however, Grampa soon dies.
Granma is a pious Christian, who loves casting hellfire and damnation in her husband’s direction. Her health deteriorates quickly after Grandpa’s death; she dies just after the family reaches California.
Tom’s younger brother, a sixteen-year-old boy obsessed with cars and girls. Al is vain and cocky but an extremely competent mechanic, and his expertise proves vital in bringing the Joads, as well as the Wilsons, to California. He idolizes Tom, but by the end of the novel he has become his own man. When he falls in love with a girl named Agnes Wainwright at a cotton plantation where they are working, he decides to stay with her rather than leaving with his family.
Ivy and Sairy Wilson
A couple traveling to California whom the Joads meet on Highway 66, just before Grampa’s death. The Wilsons lend the Joads their tent so that Grampa can have a comfortable place to die. The Joads return the couple’s kindness by fixing their broken-down car. Hoping to make the trip easier, the two families combine forces, traveling together until Sairy Wilson’s health forces her and Ivy to stop.
Rose of Sharon’s husband, Connie is an unrealistic dreamer who abandons the Joads after they reach California. This act of selfishness and immaturity surprises no one but his naïve wife.
Tom’s older brother. Noah has been slightly deformed since his birth: Pa Joad had to perform the delivery and, panicking, tried to pull him out forcibly. Slow and quiet, Noah leaves his family behind at a stream near the California border, telling Tom that he feels his parents do not love him as much as they love the other children.
Tom’s uncle, who, years ago, refused to fetch a doctor for his pregnant wife when she complained of stomach pains. He has never forgiven himself for her death, and he often dwells heavily on the negligence he considers a sin.
The second and younger Joad daughter. Ruthie has a fiery relationship to her brother Winfield: the two are intensely dependent upon one another and fiercely competitive. When she brags to another child that her brother has killed two men, she inadvertently puts Tom’s life in danger, forcing him to flee.
At the age of ten, Winfield is the youngest of the Joad children. Ma worries for his well-being, fearing that without a proper home he will grow up to be wild and rootless.
The migrant worker who first inspires Tom and Casy to work for labor organization. Floyd’s outspokenness sparks a scuffle with the police in which Casy is arrested.
One of the Joads’ Oklahoma neighbors. When the bank evicts his family, Muley refuses to leave his land. Instead, he lets his wife and children move to California without him and stays behind to live outdoors. When he comes upon Tom at the abandoned Joad farm, he directs the young man to his Uncle John’s.
The daughter of the couple who shares the Joads’ boxcar toward the end of the novel. Agnes becomes engaged to Al, who leaves his family in order to stay with her.