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 Joad’s strong will power and to reflect man’s fear of new challenges, and to identify man’s 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 Steinbeck’s 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 Muley’s 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 Muley’s stubbornness when he is really terrified of leaving his land and having to change his life style. Muley’s 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 man’s fear of change, there are characters who would rather give up than try harder. These “... run outs” also contribute to the appearance Joad family’s 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 Sharon’s baby, but eventually leaves his family behind for his personal reasons. Steinbeck first establishes the idea of abandonment by Connie’s thoughts, instead of his...