Grampa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath: Death, Burial & Funeral

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Grampa Joad is the first to die after the Joads leave their home for a new life in California. Since money is tight, the Joads have no choice but to bury him beside the road. Casy argues that although his physical death was at the camp, his real death came before.

Grampa's Death

Shortly after the Joads enter Route 66 on the way to California, they stop to camp along the road, where they meet the Wilsons. Grampa feels ill, and goes to rest in the peace of the Wilsons' tent, where he has a stroke and dies. In addition to feeling shocked and saddened by Grampa's death, the Joads are embarrassed that he died in the tent of strangers. The Wilsons, however, are kind and generous about all of it, and do what they can to support the Joads as they cope with a death in their family. This is one of many examples in the book in which other migrant families show much more humanity than wealthy people with stable homes.

Grampa's Burial

The Joads debate what to do next, and decide that they do not have the money to go the legal route, which would involve a funeral and at least a 40 dollar payment. They decide to bury Grampa in the woods near the campsite, and leave a note about what happened, just in case someone comes along, finds the body, and suspect foul play. Tom writes, 'This here is William James Joad, dyed of a stroke, old old man. His fokes bured him becaws they got no money to pay for funerls. Nobody kilt him. Just a stroke an he dyed.' Tom reads the words to Ma, who approves, but wants to add something from Scripture. They flip through the Bible and eventually settle on, 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.' Tom writes the words carefully, then Ma places the paper in a jar to be buried with Grampa.

Funeral, Casy's Words

As the Joads gather around to bury Grampa, Casy agrees to say a few words. Since he no longer claims to be a preacher, his eulogy for Grampa is a bit unusual. He acknowledges at the beginning that he doesn't know whether Grampa was a good or bad man, and that he does not believe it matters anyway, because he's dead. He goes on to argue that it is less necessary to pray for someone who has died than for those who are still alive, since the dead have only one path in front of them, whereas the living have many possible paths. Casy says, 'An' if I was to pray, it'd be for the folks that don' know which way to turn.'

Irony in the Eulogy

His words about the living, in this case, are somewhat ironic, because the Joads have very little in the way of choice at any point in The Grapes of Wrath. For the most part, they travel to where the work is, they agree to take whatever work is available, and they move on when they are forced to. Their journey is always one of necessity rather than choice, and there is rarely a time when they have a genuine decision to make from among various options.

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