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Preacher Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath: Description, Analysis & Death

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.

Jim Casy is a lost soul in ''The Grapes of Wrath''. He provides guidance in his travels with the Joad family, but in the process learns about himself and his role in life. This lesson shows his path to becoming a union leader and a martyr.

Physical Characteristics

John Steinbeck introduces Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath as a conflicted man. Just as most of us don't know who we want to be when we grow up, and sometimes long after that, John Casy struggles with the same thing. He only knows that he shouldn't be a preacher.

He has spent a great deal of time thinking about this while wandering around Oklahoma, and his characteristics show the effects of this inner conflict. His hair, for instance, is unkempt and ''stiff gray.'' He is scrawny, yet muscular, and his eyes show his anguish.

Under a large forehead, and between a ''beaked and hard'' nose, Jim Casy's eyes are ''heavy and protruding.'' Perhaps more telling are his eyelids, which are ''raw and red.'' He apparently rubs them quite a bit, either to alleviate stress or due to lack of sleep. Either way, he is alone, wandering in the wilderness with no responsibilities. It seems a simple life. So, what could possibly create so much stress in a man? Sin.

Former Preacher

Quite often Jim Casy has to remind people that he is a former preacher. He doesn't preach, even though he likes to talk, and he ''got no God''. He will pray when forced into it or the situation demands it, such as when Grampa Joad suffers a stroke. Jim Casy admits that ''it's a nice thing not bein' a preacher no more.'' His reasoning is because of his desire to be with women.

Jim admits that while he was a preacher, he would lay with some of the women in his parish. He knows he sinned. He explains to Tom Joad that as their preacher, these women are ''holy vessels. I was savin' their souls.'' After he administered to them as their preacher, he would ''take them out in the grass.'' He is supposed to behave and act one way as a preacher, but lapses into sin.

JIm wonders whether sin exists. He comes to the conclusion that ''there ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.'' This thought leads Jim to the next stage of his life.

As a preacher, he was constantly around people. He still needs to be around them, but in a different way. He watches and observes them. He provides guidance and support, such as with the Joad family, especially their eldest son, Tom. In the process, he becomes something more.

Future Leader

As the Joad family moves from Oklahoma to California, Jim asks to accompany them. Throughout the journey, Jim notices all the other people heading west. It seems to him that ''somepin worse'n the devil got hold a the country.''

Up to this point, he observes the actions and behavior of other people, concluding that people are moving because they ''want sompin better'n what they got.'' Jim is beginning to understand the plight of these people.

This comes to fruition when Jim takes the blame for knocking a deputy out while the Joads are staying in Hooverville, a camp of the homeless and unemployed. It is here that Jim realizes that people cannot live on the wages they earn. Jim is arrested and goes to jail. From meeting and talking with a great number of people, he realizes that they need someone to lead them. After his brief stay in jail, he steps up.

When Jim meets Tom Joad again days after the incident with the deputy, Jim is living in a tent alongside the highway. He is the head of a union, demanding better pay for the workers. The employers don't like this, they label Jim as a 'red', someone who agitates a situation and stirs up trouble. He gets a pick axe to the head for his effort, but not before he tells his attacker ''you don't know what you're a-doin'.'' Jim becomes a martyr for the cause.

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