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

Uncle John

Uncle John is a man of few words and seldom speaks during the novel. He suffers from a guilt complex of having sinned and caused the death of his wife. When his wife was pregnant she developed stomach pains and asked for a doctor. Uncle John, however, told her that she had probably eaten too much and the pain was a result of indigestion. His wife died the next afternoon from a ruptured appendix. When his guilt become too great, he relieves himself through drinking and sex. His character is obviously not strong, but he does worry whether his sins have brought the manifold misfortunes upon the Joad family. In the novel's final chapter, he floats Rose of Sharon's still born baby downstream in an fit of anger; he hopes someone will find the lifeless form and realize the cruelty inflicted on the migrants.

Tom Joad

Tom Joad is the protagonist of the novel and the narrative action chronicles his development from a self-absorbed egoism to a concern about humanity at large. The novel opens with Tom as the representative walking man, who along with the Joads and the other migrants, will be sent on a quest to understand the implications of his relationship with the land. At the novel's opening, he hitch hikes his way home after serving four years in the prison for killing a man in a drunken brawl. At this stage he is only concerned with his own wants and desires. He tells Casy that "I'm just gonna lay one foot down before another." He feels no trace of shame for having killed a man and says he would do the same even now if similar circumstances presented themselves.


In the beginning, Tom does not show any sympathy with Casy's ideas of One Big Soul. Beyond himself, he does show a genuine concern for his own family, and beneath his hard exterior lies a human heart that is capable of kindness. When Tom meets Casy during the strike at the Hooper ranch, the ex-preacher tells him of the importance of organizing workers in order to improve their living conditions. Tom does not say much but thinks about what Casy has said. When Casy is killed, he feels compelled to remember his teachings. Having to hide in a cave since he kills Casy's murderer, Tom has a lot of time to think. He reflects on Casy's ideas and decides to translate them into action. Ma warns him that Casy had to sacrifice his life; Tom says it does not matter. He now believes that his soul is a part of a big soul and that he will always be present everywhere. Tom has learned to love and work for humankind.

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon transforms from a petulant young girl who is obsessed with her pregnancy to a nurturing woman who shares her milk with a starving man. At the beginning, she is on quest of beauty and romance in life. She seems immature and shares constant secrets with her equally immature, nineteen-year-old husband Connie. Both of them have great (and unrealistic) plans for their future and for their baby. They plan to move away from the family, live in a California town, buy a house, and own a store. Sadly, Connie deserts her, for he lacks the physical and moral capacity to continue the difficulties endured by the Joad family.

Throughout the novel, Rose of Sharon tends to think that every event will affect her baby in a negative way; in so doing, she foreshadows the actual events surrounding her infant at the end of book. She worries about seeing the dog run over, fearing it will harm the fetus. She complains about not getting to drink milk and fears that her baby will be born deformed. In the ending scenes of the novel, Rose of Sharon works with the family in the cotton fields. She goes into labor soon after this and gives birth to a stillborn child because of malnutrition and extreme exhaustion. Her final action of nourishing a starving man on the milk meant for her dead baby shows that she too shares Casy's love of the people; although she does not bring life into the world, there is rebirth when she brings life to a dying man.

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