How does Tom Joad interact with the other qualities of "sense of place" in the novel?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Tom has a unique relationship with the idea of a "sense of place" in the course of the novel.  On one hand, he represents placelesness when he leaves prison.  He has little authentic connection with people or with a place, in general.  He represents the essence of Stein's "There is no there there."  His desire to go to the family farm is one borne out of the idea that he simply wishes to be left alone.  His interaction with the sense of place is one in which he wishes to cut off connection with everything, including place, making him embodying a sense of placelessness.  In some ways, this is deliberate on the part of Steinbeck who wishes to make a statement about how society is at the time.  The lack of harnessing a sense of place is one in which individuals lose connection to one another and to those elements that matter.  The severing of bonds in placelessness emboldens those in the position of power and prevents any real connection and solidarity to be formed.  It is for this reason that over the course of the novel, Tom's sense of place begins to increase precisely at the moments when his family's placelessness also increases.  By the end of the novel, as the family struggles to establish their own sense of place, Tom has found his in the family of humanity.  Tom's connection to the larger cultural element in standing up for the principles that he sees as morally and politically right are representative of how Tom's sense of place is not tied into one particular location.  His placelessness at this point resides in the universal connection he has forged with humanity.  His decision to carry on Casy's teachings help to develop his own sense of place with all of humanity.  Tom demonstrates how his sense of place is more emotional or subjective than anything external.  In doing so, Tom shows growth and evolution, even though his sense of place is still one shown to be physical placelessness.

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The Grapes of Wrath

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