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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE NOVEL THE CHARACTERS
  • RUTHIE AND WINFIELD

    Ruthie and Winfield are the brats of the family. They're the kind of kids we wish we never had been, but probably were. They have all the qualities that drive parents mad. They're loud, quarrelsome, and moody. Both have an awful lot of growing up to do. Worst of all, they poke each other constantly and get the biggest kick out of tattling on one another.

    But they're vulnerable, too. They need love and protection and a pat on the back now and then because life is no easier for them than it is for the older members of the family.

    As the youngest in the clan, they're also the most adaptable. They take to life on the road quickly. Migrating to California is an adventure, but filled with sobering experiences like Grampa's death and Casy's arrest.

    As mothers will, Ma worries about her two little ones. They seem to be growing up wild, without discipline, without manners or social grace. Ruthie is a particular problem. Joining any group of kids, she's bound to pick a fight. At the government camp she breaks up a game of croquet because she hasn't learned that in a group you have to wait your turn. At the boxcar camp, she gets into a scrap that has serious consequences.

    Arguing over a box of Cracker Jack with other kids, Ruthie threatens to get her big brother after one of them. In the heat of the argument, Ruthie reveals that her brother Tom is a killer and is hiding nearby. As a result, Tom must leave the family.

    Overall, Ruthie and Winfield weather the hardships of migrant life rather easily. Does their Joad blood give them the capacity to endure? Or is their youth the secret of their success? It's probably a toss-up.


  • GRAMPA JOAD

    Even though Grampa appears only briefly in the book, he leaves a lasting impression. He's a spirited old warhorse with a foul mouth, a fiery temper, and a mischievous glint in his eyes. He does nothing in moderation: he drinks too much, eats too much, and talks all the time.

    Some of what he says is nonsense, but some makes a great deal of sense. He's proud to be a Joad and overjoyed to see his favorite grandchild Tom out of prison. "They ain't a gonna keep no Joad in jail," he says.

    Grampa, as the oldest Joad, is considered the head of the family, even though everyone recognizes that his mind goes haywire sometimes. At family councils, it's his privilege to speak first.

    He has boundless enthusiasm for going west: "Jus' let me get out to California where I can pick me an orange when I want it. Or grapes... I'm gonna squash 'em on my face an' let 'em run offen my chin," he says on the day before the journey begins.

    But the next morning he states, "I ain't a-goin'." He demands to be left behind in the country where he feels at home. Although he doesn't say it in words, he is tied to the land of his fathers, and to be wrenched away would break him.

    The family must take him anyway. They overpower him by spiking his coffee with medicine. But Grampa never recovers from his stupor. He dies the next day and is buried in a roadside grave. After the makeshift funeral, Casy tells the others, "Grampa didn' die tonight. He died the minute you took 'im off the old place."

    Grampa and the land were one and the same. Because the Joads have been transformed from farmers to migrants, Grampa had to die. He had no place in a family that settled in a new place every night.


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