Ivy & Sairy Wilson in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

The Joad family aren't the only ones making their way to California. In this lesson, we will get to know more about Ivy and Sairy Wilson, and older couple who joins the Joad's for part of their journey in John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath''.

On the Road

Have you ever had to move? Nowadays, many people move for a job or in search of a better life. That's no different than the Joad family in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The difference is, while most of us have some amount of freedom in choosing whether or not to move, the Joad family was forced into it when companies took over their land.

Like many others, the Joad family heads out west to California after seeing flyers advertising good-paying jobs. They load up as many of their belonging as they can fit on an old, beat-up truck and begin their journey to what they hope will be a better life.

The Joad's are not the only ones facing this situation. People from all different states are migrating west on Route 66 after their farms were taken over. Two such people are Ivy and Sairy Wilson, a married couple from Kansas who have been traveling for three weeks by the time the Joad family's path crosses theirs. Let's take a deeper look.

Who are the Wilson's?

Ivy Wilson has a ''lean'' face whose ''deep cheek lines furrows down his face so that his cheekbones and chin stood out sharply.'' He admits he can have a temper, but he is also welcoming and kind-hearted.

His wife, Sairy, is very sick. Her face is ''wrinkled as a dried leaf'' and her eyes ''seemed to look out of a well of horror.'' Sairy's ''small and shuddering body'' is always in pain. Despite her appearance, though, Sairy's voice has ''a beautiful low timbre, soft and modulated, and yet with ringing overtones.''

Bonding Over a Tragedy

The Joad's and the Wilson's first meet when Tom notices the couple's tent off the side of the road. He pulls up alongside Ivy, who is staring angrily under the hood of his ''old touring car.'' But Ivy's irritation with his car quickly gives way for him to welcome the Joad family to join him and his wife in their campsite.

Maybe it is because she has to deal with her own sickness so much or because she has been around sick people before, but Sairy notices Grampa is not doing well and invites him to lay down on the mattress in their tent.

Casy comes, too, and together they agree Grampa is ''workin' up to a stroke.'' When it hits, it is Sairy who reminds Casy to hold down Grampa's tongue while she tries to block Granma from seeing what's going on. Sairy is also the one to comfort Granma after Grampa dies.

Although the Wilson's insist ''there's no beholden in a time of dying,'' the Joad's want to do something to make up for Grampa dying in the Wilson's tent and for using their quilt to bury him. Al and Tom offer to fix the Wilson's car. Since the Wilson's are in the same boat of having a very strict budget, Ivy has to admit they could use the help.

Traveling Friends

The men realize they are heading to the same place: California. It turns out Ivy has seen the exact same handbill as the Joad family. Since they are all heading in the same direction, Tom and Al have an idea.

They've been worrying about their truck making the trip, especially going up hills since it is overloaded with their belongings. What if they split the belongings up into the truck and the Wilson's car and they all travel together? That way, the truck wouldn't be packed too full, and Al and Tom could keep the Wilson's car running.

Ivy and Sairy are worried they will be a ''burden,'' especially since Sairy worries she will be too sick to make the whole trip. Ma and Pa insist that won't be the case - both families will benefit. Besides, they are practically family now after Sairy helped out so much with Grampa. The decision is settled, and the families begin traveling together.

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