Steinbeck uses the characters to draw readers into the story and keep them interested. He also uses suspense, because it was only a matter of time before Tom lost his temper and got in trouble.
The members of the family are trying to stay together and help the people around them, which is a really difficult task. When they see a car broken down on the side of the road, they help fix it while they are camping (Steinbeck 121). When the family gets to a Hooverville, and starving children gather around their dinner, even though they do not have enough they still share (Steinbeck 217). Because the family is always trying to help people and do the right thing, the reader wants them to do well too. The reader starts rooting for the family to find work and stick it out because they are such nice people, and once you start rooting for something, it is difficult to leave before you know how it ends. It is like leaving in the middle of a baseball game, you just do not do it.
All of the time in the novel Tom is on the verge of doing something that would get his self in trouble. When a cop tries to arrest one of his new friends for no particular reason, Tom trips a cop to let his friend get away (Steinbeck 223). At that point, if Casy had not stepped in and taken the blame for it, Tom would have gone back to jail. It was only a matter of time until someone else did something mean and senseless. The reader is just waiting and hoping that the thing does not happen, but it does.
Between the suspense and the characters, the reader is completely hooked. Everyone wants nice good people to do well, except maybe mean nasty people, but I do not think there are very many of those. Even if a person does not like sad depressing books, it is still a compelling thing to read.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.