Pastures of Heaven - Character Summaries
The corporal who happens upon the valley while transporting his enslaved Native Americans ironically names the valley that impresses him so deeply "Las Pasturas del Cielo," or the Pastures of Heaven. He longs to live his final years in the beautiful valley he had discovered but is never able to return having been infecting with the "pox" and dying what is implied to be a justly terrible death (4). Steinbeck refers to the corporal as "a savage bearer of civilization," reminding his readers that the lands once owned by Native Americans were taken over by such men (4). The Corporal's failure to fulfill his dream of returning to the Pastures of Heaven sets up the pattern of unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and desires that plague the valley's residents across several generations.
An early resident of the Pastures of Heaven, George settles in the valley during the 1860's, and works tirelessly on the land. Essentially, he works himself to death and is the first actual resident of the Pastures who fails to fulfill his dreams and desires. After his death, his farm falls to the care of his son, John.
George Battle's son, John is consumed with religious fervor to a degree bordering on insanity. John has not the passion his father did for the land and allows the farm his father bequeathed him to be reclaimed by nature. He dies after being bitten by a rattlesnake, which he believed to be the devil. His death firmly establishes the existence of the curse the residents of the valley perceive hangs over the farm.
In a sense Bert Munroe is the main character of the book, since either he or one of his immediate family members appears in each of the stories. The Munroes have a peculiar impact in the book as it is their interactions with each of the characters, whether purposeful or not, that cause the conflict in each story. Bert comes to the Pastures after purchasing the supposedly cursed Battle farm to start a new life for himself and his family. Bert perceives himself to be cursed thanks to his many failings in business ventures. He sees new hope for himself in the prospect of farming. And though he seems to be unaffected by the Battle curse, having established a successful farm in the Pastures rather easily, he and his family seem to spread the affect of the curse to others in their dealings about the town. Bert is indirectly responsible for Tularecito's institutionalization, Helen Van Deventer's murder of her daughter, the Lopez sisters' downfall, Molly Morgan's flight from the Pastures, Raymond Bank's development of self-consciousness, and the burning of the Whiteside home.
Bert Munroe's wife is a kindly woman, "a good house manager," and mother (13). Her efforts to extend charity to Robbie Maltby bring about an awareness of poverty to the young boy. She is present with her daughter Mae when Pat Humbert overhears the conversation that causes him to remodel his parlor in the deluded hope of wooing Mae. She is also present when Bert Munroe jokes about telling Allen Hueneker's wife that he was spotted in the company of the Lopez sisters. It is implied that is the reason the sheriff comes to close down the sister's business thus driving them out of the Pastures.
Bert Munroe's daughter is an attractive young woman with a voluptuous figure and eyes that are "friendly and candid" (13). Mae marries Bill Whiteside and relocates to Monterey. Mae's comment about Pat Humbert's pretty house motivates Pat's obsessive remodeling of his parlor and his deluded fantasies about courting Mae.
Representing the new generation, Jimmy, having grown up in the more urban town of Monterey, possesses a certain sophistication or "knowledge of the world," as Steinbeck describes it (14). This separates Jimmy from other young men in the Pastures of Heaven. Jimmy is quite social and comfortable flirting with girls in the town. His dancing with Alice Wicks at a town social precipitates Shark Wicks' eventual humiliation.
T. B. Allen
Owner of the General Store in the Pastures of Heaven. Though his appearances are sparse throughout the book, his store is the hub for the men in the town to gather and talk.
Edward "Shark" Wicks
Shark desires the attention and admiration of his peers. To garner such attention, he builds an imaginary fortune for himself on a fake ledger and brags about his financial windfalls and investments. His "greatest pleasure came of being considered a wealthy man" (20). Shark convinces the entire town of his wealth, despite his outward appearance of poverty, which is interpreted as wise frugality by his peers. Shark develops an obsession for his beautiful daughter's purity, which is the driving force behind his downfall. Shark gets caught in his web of lies and decides to leave the Pastures of Heaven for the city.
Described by Steinbeck as an unattractive woman, Katherine must draw upon her womanly powers to help get her husband, Edward "Shark" Wicks, to pull himself together after admitting to the town that he has no money and has been lying to them throughout the years.
The beautiful and dim-witted daughter of Shark Wicks, Alice is "an incredibly stupid, dull and backward girl" (25). As Alice matures she becomes increasingly more lovely and insipid and her father becomes increasingly obsessed with protecting her purity. She ends up kissing Jimmy Munroe at a dance, which brings about her father's downfall.
Franklin adopts Tularecito after his farmhand finds the baby abandoned along the roadside. He cares for the child as if he were his own. Knowing Tularecito is mentally handicapped, Franklin treats him with kindness and understanding. He appreciates and encourages the child's special abilities and fondness for nature. He sends Tularecito to the public school against his better judgment as he knows the boy is unlikely to successfully function in conventional society.
The Mexican-Indian hired hand that works for Franklin Gomez. A devoutly religious man, Pancho discovers the baby Franklin Gomez later adopts. Pancho, a man prone to drinking, believes the baby is not human, but rather the spawn of the devil.
The deformed and mentally handicapped child that Franklin Gomez rescued from the roadside whose name means "little frog." Despite his mental retardation, Steinbeck describes him as having an "ancient wisdom" in his face (42). He possesses the ability to draw and carve "remarkably correct animals" (43). Unfortunately he is prone to fits of ravenous violence if one of his creations is dropped or broken. After a violent attack on Bert Munroe, Tularecito is institutionalized.
A school teacher in the Pastures of Heaven, Miss Martin is attacked by Tularecito for having his drawings erased from the blackboard. Demanding the child be whipped quite mercilessly, she never realizes how different and special Tularecito truly is. Unable to deal with having Tularecito in her classroom, she resigns her position at the end of the school year.
Molly Morgan, the teacher who replaces Miss Martin, comes from an impoverished background in the city. Abandoned by her father when she was twelve, she strikes out on her own at a young age and earns a teaching degree. Molly takes the vacated teaching position in the Pastures and is well liked by her pupils and fellow townsfolk. She recognizes and encourages Tularecito's connection to nature and understands the value of the Maltby's self chosen impoverishment. Molly is haunted by the disappearance of her father throughout her life. Though she convinces herself that her father is still alive somewhere, when faced with the possibility that her father is living in the Pastures of Heaven, she breaks down and decides to leave the valley.
Helen Van Deventer
Steinbeck considers Helen to be the queen of pain. He points out that "she hungered for tragedy and life lavishly heaped it upon her" (55). Helen enjoys dwelling on her husband's death, and later when her daughter is diagnosed with a mental disorder, she insists on caring for the girl herself instead of seeking the prescribed medical attention. Helen seeks the Pastures of Heaven as a refuge, where she and her daughter can live in peace and tranquility. When she realizes she can never have peace as long as her daughter is around, Helen shoots her and makes her death look like an apparent suicide.
Hilda Van Deventer
The mentally ill daughter of Helen, who, as she ages into her teen years, starts to grow beyond her mother's control. Though she desperately needs professional psychiatric help, her mother denies her such treatment and she essentially becomes a fugitive in the home Helen builds in the Pastures of Heaven. Helen eventually shoots her after she escapes one night.
The family doctor for Helen Van Deventer, Dr. Phillips is completely frustrated with Helen's willingness to "endure" the difficulty of raising her mentally ill daughter, despite his insistence that her daughter needs professional help. Dr. Phillips becomes more and more frustrated with Helen until he finally refuses to see her again.
Forced to leave San Francisco due to ill health, Junius Maltby relocates to the Pastures of Heaven because the name alone gives him the feeling he would find some peace in the small community. He becomes increasingly lazy there and refuses to work to support his wife or keep up the homestead. He loves to read literature while sitting by a stream. Relaxation becomes his vice and the beautiful surroundings provide him with endless amounts of it. His wife eventually bears him a son, Robbie, for whom Junius becomes responsible after her death. He instills in his son a passion for literature and encourages his inquisitive nature though he barely provides for his physical necessities and even forgets to send him to school when he is of age. Due to Junius' laziness, the Maltbys live in poverty, but this does not bother him in the least as he does not value material prosperity like the rest of conventional society. The imbalanced nature of his priorities is finally brought to his attention when the Munroes offer Robbie new clothes at school. Junius then decides to return to the city to raise his son in a more conventional manner, even if it means sacrificing the happiness they found in the Pastures.
Intelligent and inquisitive, Robbie, the son of Junius Maltby, becomes a favorite among his peers once he is forced to go to school. "Self possessed and mature," Robbie has an influence on the other boys in the valley, expanding their intellects and imaginations and giving them an affinity for wearing tattered clothes and going barefoot (84). His peers are attracted to the simple life the boy lives with his shiftless father. Robbie is blissfully unaware of his unequal social standing until the Munroes offer him new clothes at school one day. They bring to the boy a newfound sense of self-consciousness and shame over his personal appearance and social position.
Maria and Rosa Lopez
These two sisters struggle to survive at a subsistence level on their farm. Because of their land's poor and rocky soil, they are unable to grow enough food to survive. At first, survival is the motivating factor for the sisters. They open a restaurant in their home but it is quite unsuccessful. Ultimately, they shuck their Catholic morals and resort to prostitution to encourage the sale of their tortillas. After the local sheriff shuts down their business, the sisters, having become accustomed to their new lifestyle, decide to abandon the Pastures to become prostitutes in the city.
Raymond Banks owns the most efficient and admired farm in the valley. Though a hard worker, Raymond possesses a "meager imagination" (136). Nonetheless, he does possess a great respect for his land and his responsibilities as a farmer and chicken rancher. Raymond sees it as his duty to kill his chickens quickly and efficiently to keep them from suffering. Oddly, Raymond, also attends executions at San Quentin Prison where his childhood friend is warden. He looks upon the executions as similar to the slaughter of chickens. He admires the quick efficiency of it all. He finds the emotional displays of other witnesses at the executions almost exhilarating as he does not have particularly deep feelings about the subject. It is not until Bert Munroe, who was intending to accompany him to an execution, backs out because of fear that Raymond considers the deeper implications of the executions. He curses Bert for making him self conscious about what he has always considered harmless entertainment.
Working the family farm himself since he was sixteen years old, Pat is a rather listless fellow that is haunted by the death of his parents. After their deaths, Pat seeks out the company of others constantly, as he cannot stand to be alone with his guilt and shameful thoughts about his parents. Pat attempts to get past the memories, but they continue to haunt him. After overhearing Mae Munroe compliment the outside of his home, Pat becomes obsessed with redecorating his parent's shut up, old parlor in the fashion of a Vermont home to impress Mae Monroe. He expends all of his energy redecorating the parlor and fantasizing about Mae's reaction when she sees the room. Once he finally gets up the courage to ask Mae over, he learns that he is too late as she is already engaged to Bill Whiteside. Pat is crushed and is once again oppressed by the memories of his dead parents and listless homestead.
The first real resident of the Pastures of Heaven, Richard comes to California to prospect for gold. Recognizing the futility of prospecting, he turns to farming as good husbandry. He sets about building a large home and sustainable farm to be the seat of his long legacy, his own personal "dynasty," that will be passed down to future generations of Whitesides whom Richard imagines will live on the farm (171). Unfortunately, Richard, who has a strong desire to have children and see his lineage perpetuated, is only gifted with one child whom he and his wife christen John. He dies raving about children and his posterity.
Richard Whiteside's wife, Alicia, is only able to bear her husband one son. A second pregnancy nearly kills her and she remains an invalid for the rest of her life. After the death of her husband, she hangs on to see her son John married to make sure he perpetuates his father's legacy.
Richard Whiteside manages to pass on his desire for a family legacy to his only child John. John takes a wife, Willa, and carefully maintains the homestead in a similar hope of creating the Whiteside dynasty. Like his father, John has only one son named William. William, called Bill, does not share his father's or grandfather's passion for the family legacy. After Bill informs John of his intention to leave the Pastures, John Whiteside resolutely watches as the house burns to the ground after it accidentally catches fire.
Willa, John Whiteside's wife and companion, is a friendly woman possessing a certain disarming wit and charm. Willa and her husband share many of the same beliefs and opinions about the family and the farm.
William (Bill) Whiteside
More secretive and businesslike than his father John Whiteside, Bill represents the modern generation. Like many in the new generation, Bill decides to leave the family farm behind and move to Monterey thus destroying his father's and grandfather's dream of a family dynasty in the Pastures. Bill is confident in his business prowess and the potential prosperity a new automobile dealership will bring.