The Wainwright Family in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

In this lesson, learn about the role of the Wainwright family in ''The Grapes of Wrath'', the selfless family that we only get scant details about, but whose kindness shows the importance of community in dark times.

Who Are the Wainwrights?

It's difficult to know someone when you have little information available. It's even more difficult to describe an entire family when only a few members make themselves known. In John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the Wainwright family rarely comes out of the shadows and into the limelight that shines on the Joad family.

As the novel concludes, the Joads and the Wainwrights live together in a boxcar. The Wainwrights are made up of Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright, their son Jonas, and their daughter Aggie. They assist one another to ensure survival for everyone. The engagement of Aggie to Al Joad solidifies the families' unity.

Although the Joad family acknowledges the Wainwright family with whom they share an accommodation inside the boxcar, physical descriptions of the Wainwright family are sparse.

Mrs. Wainwright appears as the focal point of her family. She interacts frequently with Ma Joad, and assists the Joads when needed. But what do we know about her, other than she is kind?

When helping Rose of Sharon walk into the boxcar, Mrs. Wainwright is described as an ''older woman (who) kept hands on (Rose of Sharon's ) elbows.'' A little later on, Steinbeck refers to her as a ''fat little woman.'' Based on this description, and that of her husband, it appears that the Wainwrights might be older than Ma and Pa Joad.

Mr. Wainwright is given a bit detail than his wife. Mr. Wainwright first comes to attention as an ''elderly man squatted against the car wall.'' When he discusses Al's behavior around Aggie with Pa Joad, we see the wrinkles on his brow, the hair that is ''blue-white and fine (and)…patina of silver beard covered his jaws and chin.'' Based on their appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright sound like an elderly couple instead of parents with active and young children.


How many children do the Wainwrights have? They have a daughter Aggie, and a son named Jonas, but no mention of anyone else. This is somewhat curious since Ma Joad makes a comment after comparing earnings from the day's work that the Wainwright's would earn more because ''they's more of you.''

With Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright, Aggie, and Jonas, that adds up to four family members. The Joad family has at least that many members, especially if you count the two youngest. How many people make up the Wainwright family is unclear, but there appears to be at least four.

Jonas barely receives any mention at all. Ma Joad again discusses work when Mrs. Wainwright makes the comment that ''Jonas is growin' up.'' Other than this brief mention, nothing further is said about Jonas. He doesn't speak or partake in any activity.

More is known about Aggie. She is ''near sixteen, an' growed up.'' She watches after the two younger Joad children when Rose of Sharon goes into labor. Aggie also helps with cooking. She has developed into an able young woman. As a result, her parents fear ''she might git in trouble.'' They are scared of Al and Aggie creating a scandal.


Mr. Wainwright expresses his concerns about the attention Al Joad shows Aggie. He mentions that his family ''ain't had no shame in our family.'' He does not want his daughter getting pregnant. Ma and Pa Joad understand, and agree to talk to Al.

But it proves to be unnecessary as shortly thereafter, Al announces that he and Aggie are going to get married. This is a significant event that deserves some celebration, and together Ma Joad and Mrs. Wainwright cook up pancakes with sugar. This announcement also joins the Joads and Wainwrights as family. The union of Al and Aggie emphasizes the importance of treating everyone as a member of your family, regardless of circumstances.


The Joad and Wainwright families look out for one another. They help each other when needed and provide care when the other is sick. Whether it is Ma inviting the Wainwrights to come pick cotton with them, knowing full well that this will mean less money for her family, or Mrs. Wainwright helping out during Rose of Sharon's delivery, they are there for each other.

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