Al Joad in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you are reading ''The Grapes of Wrath'', we come across many characters. As a large family, Al is just one of the Joad children. In this lesson, we will take a look Al Joad and consider some of his important characteristics.

Al Joad

In The Grapes of Wrath, Al Joad is the 16-year-old son of Ma and Pa Joad. He goes along on the family's road trip to California. Since he knows the most about cars, he has the responsibility of driving for most of the way. While in some ways, Al is a typical 16-year-old, he also displays behavior that is quite different than most teenagers. Let's take a look at his characteristics.

The Peeing Pirate

One of the first things we learn about Al is a story from his childhood. Pa sets the scene by explaining how Grampa and the kids all lived together. One time, Grampa got up to pee in the middle of the night and tripped over Winfield and ending up peeing in his pants. Al, instead of offering sympathy, tells Grampa that he should run off and be a pirate. In response, Grampa gets his gun, and Al ends up sleeping outside that night so Grampa could calm down. This story reveals that even as a child, Al did not have much empathy for other living beings.

Al's Motivation

When Al and Tom meet up for the first time since Tom got out of prison, we see how Al feels about Tom. When Al sees Tom, 'his boasting face changed, and admiration and veneration shone in his eyes.' He has 'his hand ready if Tom should want to shake it.' The narrator also tells us that even though Al is dressed like a tough guy (apparently having your jeans rolled up 8 inches and wearing a tilted cowboy hat made you look tough in the 1930s), he couldn't match 'his brother's stature; for his brother had killed a man, and no one would ever forget it.' This passage suggests that Al has a bit of a reputation to live up to. This may explain why he sometimes comes across as harsh and uncaring. Even though his brother killed someone in self defense, Al may still feel like he has to compete with one of the most serious actions in the world.

Sociopathic Behavior

Another example of Al's lack of empathy and compassion comes when he is driving with Tom (Al's older brother). Even though Tom is seen as a hardened criminal (he murdered someone), he mentions that he does not like it when an animal gets hit while driving. Al on the other hand, deliberately tries to run over a cat that walks into the road. Not only that, but Al just keeps chatting as though he did not just display sociopathic behavior. Al simply says 'Nearly got him,' and then 'Say, Tom. You heard Connie talkin' how he's gonna study nights? I been thinkin' maybe I'd study nights too.' This story shows us that, just as when Al was younger, he still does not express compassion for other lives. While Al may seem like a psycho, it is also possible that he is trying to show off for Tom. We know that he cares very much about what Tom thinks of him.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account