The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Tools of Characterization
Most families (including the Joads) leave for California upon being kicked off their land, but Muley Graves sticks around. He doesn't want to give into The Man. This shows that he's stubborn as a boot, and he is too proud to be kicked around.
Similarly, Grampa Joad realizes at the last minute that he doesn't want to leave his land, he doesn't want to forge a new life. He's also proud and tied to the past. By contrast, Uncle John accepts the Joads' fate without too much of a fight—he goes with the flow and works with the hand that is dealt to him. He can't see that the Joads have any other choice but to move west.
Most families help one another cope and survive their heartbreak and poverty after losing their homes and their lands, but Willy Feeley goes to work for the landowners, driving a tractor for $3 a day. He chooses money over community, and has no qualms about destroying these families' homes either. He is an individualist, thinking more about himself and his own life than about the lives of his neighbors.
Tom Joad doesn't dream of leaving his family's side until the day when staying with them would mean putting them in great danger. He is loyal and caring, and he knows how important family is. Connie Rivers peaces out the minute he sees that California is not as cool as he thought it would be. He's naïve and selfish. Noah Joad leaves his family in the hopes of lessoning their burden. In this moment, he is a thoughtful, sensitive, and independent.
Pa Joad slaughters the pigs, while Ma Joad prepares and salts the meat. While both work to bring food to the table, Pa's job involves killing and Ma's job involves cooking. From this division of labor, we could infer that Pa is tough and that Ma is gentle. But then we remember that Ma is dealing with a bloody, freshly-slaughtered carcass, and she seems pretty tough, too.
The men dig Grampa's grave, while the women prepare Grampa's body for burial. While digging a deep hole in the ground seems like arduous, strenuous work, we think that hanging out with a dead body is a far more intense and scary task. The duties women have in this novel require them to be emotionally tough. By contrast, the work men do requires them to be physically tough.
Muley Graves eats rabbits, prairie chicken, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, prairie dogs, and pretty much anything that he can catch with his trap (6.56). He survives off of the land, and he doesn't have a family to feed. He's resourceful.
The Joads eat hot biscuits, bacon, and coffee in Oklahoma. There are not extravagant, but they live comfortably. They have enough food to feed the entire family, and they know how to carb up. They spend the rest of the trip, however, surviving on salted pork, fried dough, or boiled potatoes. They are poor, hungry, but determined to survive.
When they get a little money working in the cotton fields in California, they eat pork chops, potatoes, milk, Cracker Jack, and occasionally pancakes. Wouldn't you want to splurge after months of never getting enough to eat? They're relatively extravagant during this brief period of wealth.
Remember that migrant family that stops at a diner to ask for ten cents worth of bread? They can't afford to buy whole sandwiches. The father buys two pieces of candy for his sons. He is poor, but he's not cold. The truck drivers looking on are feasting on pie and coffee, relatively wealthy on account of a steady job and a steady paycheck.
Migrant families with more money can afford things like canned beans and canned vegetables while they travel westward, but they eat these delicious things in the privacy of their tents, because they don't want to inspire the jealousy and wrath of other families. They also know they'd have to share their food according to the unwritten campground codes. These wealthier families are nervous, selfish, and isolated.
Tom Joad wears the new clothes that the prison gives him. Even though the clothes are cheap and don't fit him, he looks clean and successful. Pa Joad wears a dirty hat, a blue work shirt, a vest, jeans, and cracked shoes. He's a hard working, down-to-earth (literally) farmer who spends his days working with the land, getting his hands dirty.
Ma Joad wears a faded flower-print dress, a gray Mother Hubbard, and bare feet. She is modest and is not so much concerned about her clothing as she is about feeding her family and doing her chores.
The studly Al Joad, wears jeans rolled up at the ankles, cowboy boots, a Stetson hat, a plaid shirt, and a belt with a big huge buckle. He's out to impress the ladies, and he wants the world to know it.
When the Joads earn a good bit of money picking cotton, the men buy new overalls, and Ma buys a new dress. They think of clothing in practical terms. Style is not on their radar. They don't have enough money to be stylish. They don't even have enough money to have more than one outfit a piece. Clothing is a means of covering their bodies and protecting them from the elements.
By contrast, the "contractor" who comes to recruit men at the Hooverville wears clean khaki pants, a plaid shirt with pens in the shirt pocket, and a cowboy hat. He is pristine and looks as though he's worried about breaking a nail or getting too dirty. He's not so connected to the land as the Joads and other families are.
The pseudo-manager of Weedpatch wears a white coat that is frayed a little bit at the edges. While his clothing is a bit raggedy, he looks official and professional. His clothing helps to differentiate him from the rest of the campers, so that they know who is in charge.