Importance of Minor Characters in The Grapes of Wrath
In the novel The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, a fictitious migrant family, the Joads, travel west in search of a new life away from the tragedies of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Along the way, Steinbeck adds a variety of minor characters with whom the Joads interact. Steinbeck created these minor characters to contrast with the Joads strong will power and to reflect mans fear of new challenges, and to identify mans resistance to change. Three minor characters who fulfill this role are Muley Graves, Connie Rivers, and the tractor driver.
Early in the novel, Steinbeck presents a direct contrast to the Joads, Muley Graves. Muley Graves name and actions accurately portray Steinbecks idea of a man resistant to change and fearful of new challenges. The name of this character has a distinct significance. The first name Muley can be related to mule, and then linked to the saying stubborn as a mule. By analyzing this name further, the reader can determine that Graves also has a meaning. Grave is symbolic to grief or death, both of which this character endures. Meaningful actions could only follow a name of such significance, and this is true with this character.
Even though Muleys family has left him for easy livin in California, he refuses to get off his land. By refusing to leave for pride reasons, Steinbeck tries to justify Muleys stubbornness when he is really terrified of leaving his land and having to change his life style. Muleys refusal to adapt results in him being transformed into an animal with his sleeves torn loose from the shoulders back… and his constant truculent look. He must even hunt for food and hide in caves like a feral animal. There is even a sound of pride when he Gets rabbits, an sometimes a prairie chicken. Muley Graves is a prime example of a character who serves to illuminate the Joads, and their strength and courage.
Along with the characters created to show mans fear of change, there are characters who would rather give up than try harder. These … run outs also contribute to the appearance Joad familys will power, and the idea that nothing can stand in their way. Of these characters, Connie Rivers in the most noticeable in the novel. He begins as the father of Rose of Sharons baby, but eventually leaves his family behind for his personal reasons. Steinbeck first establishes the idea of abandonment by Connies thoughts, instead of his actions. If Id of knowed it would be like this I wouldnt of came. gives the reader an idea that Connie has given up, and foreshadows his abandonment of his immediate family, and on a larger scale the family of man.
This violates an overlying theme of the novel, how man must contribute to the larger family of man. Connies departure triggered Rose of Sharons loss of faith, but her character showed great amounts of courage throughout the novel, thus allowing her to deal with the loss. Steinbeck believes it is these characters, like Connie, that make people like the Joads stronger. Connie Rivers could not make it when times got too rough, he Didnt have no guts.
Another character which Steinbeck groups together with Connie Rivers is the tractor driver. The driver was introduced earlier in the novel as Joe Daviss boy. Like Muley Graves, Steinbeck adds in an excuse for the drivers fear of change. The tractor driver has …no call to worry about anybody elses kids., just his own. He also adds that his wife and kids were starving, but now with the three dollar a day paycheck they are able to eat. Again we see one of these minor characters contributing to a theme of the novel, how mans inhumanity to his fellow man affects people. Instead of these neighbors working together against a common enemy, Steinbeck creates a type of rivalry between neighbors.
The reader perceives this character as a betrayer, a man who has sided with the enemy. Steinbeck asks, who should be helped first: ones own family or the family of man? In the tractor drivers case, he chooses his own family. This decision reflects the tractor drivers fear of the hard life, and what may come by choosing it. The tractor driver provides insight on a situation that occurred frequently during that time. Most people did not fear the change in environments, but few like Joe Davis boy did and could not adapt to the rough life of a migrant.
Steinbeck created many characters for the Joads to come in contact with for different reasons. These three characters mentioned above were created to contrast the Joads and to recognize the weaker individuals in a society. By giving up, or refusing to try, these characters display a fear of new challenges and a resistance to change.