The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath book cover
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How did Tom’s imprisonment affect his character and conflicts/resolutions in the novel? Please include quotes and examples. Thank you!

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Tom Joad, imprisoned for four years after being charged with manslaughter, learned a lot about life while he was locked up. These lessons impact his character and his way of looking at the world, which, in turn, affects how he manages conflict. As Tom develops throughout the novel, his character changes and with these changes come new realizations.

At the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath, Tom has just been released from prison. His interaction with the truck driver who gives him a ride is the reader's first indication of the impact of prison on Tom's character. Tom persuades the driver to give him a ride despite the sign posted on the driver's truck saying "No riders." This action introduces the reader to Tom as a clever character who knows how to get what he needs.

Later, when the driver is fishing for personal information about Tom's past, Tom resists the questioning, and then says, "I'll tell you anything. I ain't hidin' nothin'." Tom is short with the driver, but he says more than he needs to, which suggests that Tom might actually have something to hide. This exchange, as well as later exchanges with the driver of the truck, reveals Tom's character. He is a proud man who wants to be understood as a tough character, but he has his secrets too—secrets that might cause him to feel shame and to shut down when faced with a potential conflict.

Later, Tom encounters Casy on his way home, and his relationship with Casy grows to become something that also reflects changes Tom experienced while imprisoned. The two men discuss Casy's time as a reverend, and Casy reveals his new attitude towards love and connection. Tom reacts to Casy's new philosophy with this statement: "People would drive you out of the country with idears like that. Jumpin' an' yellin'. That's what folks like. Makes 'em feel swell." Tom's cynicism reflects an attitude he may have learned in prison, a place where he likely observed all sorts of dark motives in all sorts of criminal people.

The reader meets Tom at the start of the novel, when he is fresh out of prison, so the effects of his time there are more obvious at this point in the book. These two examples offer a reader a place to start examining Tom's character, which changes throughout the novel as Tom develops into a character more concerned with his family and with the social good than with himself.

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