Muley Graves in The Grapes of Wrath: Importance & Function

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the role of Muley Graves, a former neighbor from Oklahoma, who provides information about background, characterizations, and limited options in John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath.''

Background of the Novel

What would you do if you suddenly lost your home and your job? During the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, farmers who once owned their land became sharecroppers as the bank took over. When they still could not produce, the bank tractored them off of their land. The Joads were just some of hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were literally and metaphorically knocked off of their foundations. Finding themselves homeless, many Okies headed to California where they had heard that migrant work was available.

However, not everyone left. Muley Graves, a former neighbor, stayed behind. Muley only appears in two scenes: chapter 6 and chapter 10. However, he plays an important role in the novel. Through Muley, we learn background information and characterizations. We are also introduced to the theme of family and get a glimpse of the only other option available to the Joads.

Let's take a closer look at Muley and the role he plays in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Muley's Role in the Novel

Helping Tom Reconnect with his Family

After Tom Joad gets out of prison three years early on parole, he is surprised when he arrives at his family's home to discover it has been destroyed and the family is gone. Thankfully, Muley has stayed in the area and can explain things to Tom. Muley says, 'They're all at your Uncle John's…they been choppin' cotton, all of 'em, even the kids an' your grampa. Gettin' money together so they can shove on west. Gonna buy a car and shove on west where it's easy livin'. There ain't nothin' here. Fifty cents a clean acre for choppin' cotton, an' folks beggin' for the chance to chop.'

Having been out of touch for so long, Tom doesn't understand how this could have happened. Muley continues, 'Dust comin' up an' spoilin' ever'thing so a man didn't get enough crop…Well, the folks that owns the lan' says, 'We can't afford to keep no tenants.'… So they tractored all the tenants off a the lan'. All 'cept me, an' by God I ain't goin'.' With nothing left in Oklahoma, Muley's wife and kids went to California with his wife's brother. Muley plays an important part in helping Tom reconnect with his family and helping Tom understand what has happened since he's been gone.

Introducing the Themes of Unity and Family

Jim Casy, the former preacher who has been travelling with Tom says to Muley, 'You should of went too. You shouldn't of broke up the fambly.' This is an important theme of the novel, as Ma Joad does everything in her power to keep her family together. Lots of other families lose one another when they are displaced. As a result, each has to fend for himself. However, the Joads and Casy know that the key to survival is sticking together.

Another way that Muley provides an example of unity is in the way he volunteers to share his meal. Muley is living a hard life on the land and doesn't always get much to eat, but when it comes to sharing, Muley says, 'I ain't got no choice in the matter… I mean, if a fella's got somepin to eat an' another fella's hungry-- why, the first fella ain't got no choice.' Ma Joad does the same throughout the novel.

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