In the Grapes of Wrath, is Tom Joad powerful? How does he demonstrate power?

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lynn30k eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Joad's power in The Grapes of Wrath is in the strength of his character. It is shown in his ability to adapt, change when necessary, inspire others, and expand the circle of those he cares for and about. He is also a relatively strong man physically, but his important power is internal.

When we first meet Tom he has just been paroled from prison for killing a man in self-defense, and has survived by taking it a day at a time. At this point in Steinbeck's novel, Tom is mainly concerned for himself, and how to survive as a man on parole during the Great Depression. When he reconnects with his family it becomes clear to him that he is the one on whom the others depend. For the first time he has to be responsible not just for himself, but for others. At first this extends mostly to his family and friends, but eventually he comes to care for all the "downtrodden", poor, and abused people. He works to help others, even though this makes him far more likely to come to the attention of the authorities. Tom's power is shown in his willingness to put himself at risk for others. When his mother tells him he is likely to be killed for his work, he responds,

Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.

Read the study guide:
The Grapes of Wrath

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