Illustration of the back a man in a hat and overalls looking towards the farmland

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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Tom Joad Jr.

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Extended Character Analysis

Tom Joad Jr. is the second son of the Joad family. He is passionate and impulsive. Initially self-centered, Tom proves to be the most dynamic character in the story and greatly changes throughout its events. At the beginning of the novel, Tom is released from McAlester Prison after having been incarcerated for four years in prison for killing a man in self-defense. Although Tom regrets having killed the man, he says that he knows he could do it again.

Tom’s Relationships

Tom’s father, Pa Joad, loses the motivation to lead his family early in the story when he is unable to get work and provide for them as he had before. So, Tom becomes a leader within the family alongside his mother, Ma Joad. While Ma Joad is the matriarch that holds the family together, Tom does his part to help keep the family going as well. Tom is also looked up to by his younger brother, Al Joad, who believes Tom is tough and mysterious for having killed a man and gone to jail.

Tom builds the biggest relationship outside of his family with Jim Casy. Whereas Tom is intuitive and pragmatic, Casy is gentle and reflective. Together, the characters represent two aspects of humanity: action and philosophy.

At first, Tom feels that Jim Casy talks too much; he doesn’t understand much of what Jim Casy reflects on. As the story progresses, Tom begins to understand Casy’s philosophy. Tom learns to focus on the needs of all those around him instead of focusing solely on his own needs. He learns the importance of working for the benefit of the community rather than for his own interests, a theme that Steinbeck explores throughout Grapes of Wrath.

Tom’s Character Arc

Tom is the most dynamic of the characters, because he changes greatly throughout the story. Throughout the novel, Tom’s passion frequently lands him into trouble; he begins the novel having already killed a man, and near the end he kills the man who causes Casy’s death.

This latter killing marks a turning point for Tom's character. He knows that he cannot stay with his family any longer and has to go into hiding. However, rather than continue to look out for himself, Tom decides to dedicate himself to helping the struggling migrant workers, much like Casy had. Casy’s death, then, marks a positive transition for Tom's character development. In choosing to go into hiding to protect his family and help others, Tom has embraced the importance of caring for others rather than just looking out for himself. He joins the fight to help bring decent wages and living standards to his fellow men.

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List of Characters


Jim Casy