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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Essential Quotes by Character: Tom Joad

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 2

The hitch-hiker stood up and looked across through the windows. “Could ya give me a lift, mister?”

The driver looked quickly back at the restaurant for a second. “Didn’ you see the No Riders sticker on the win’shield?”

“Sure—I seen it. But sometimes a guy’ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.”

The driver, getting slowly into the truck, considered the parts of this answer. If he refused now, not only was he not a good guy, but he was forced to carry a sticker, was not allowed to have company. If he took in the hitch-hiker he was automatically a good guy and also he was not one whom any rich bastard could kick around. He knew he was being trapped, but he couldn’t see a way out. And he wanted to be a good guy. He glanced again at the restaurant. “Scrunch down on the running board till we get around the bend,” he said.

Tom Joad has recently been released from prison after serving a term for manslaughter (killing another man in fight). He earned early release for good behavior, and now he is hitchhiking his way home. His family, not one for letter writing, is unaware of his return. As Tom travels the hot and dusty road, his feet become sore and blistered from the new shoes that were given to him on his release from prison. He is anxious to get home, to see how much has changed in the four years he has been imprisoned. Seeing the truck at the truck stop, Tom hopes to get a ride. However, company policy prevents the truck driver from carrying passengers, as the sticker placed on the driver's windshield clearly states. Tom, however, appeals to the man’s inner decency as well as to his spirit of independence. He points out that some men are not so easily controlled as to force them to forsake common decency and kindness in providing a tired traveler with a ride. The truck driver, forced into either conceding that he is not only compassionless but a tool of the truck company, agrees to give Tom a ride. Tom thus manipulates the driver into choosing sides—either the business bureaucracy or the common people.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 28

“...I been all day an’ all night hidin’ alone. Guess who I been thinkin’ about? Casy! He talked a lot. Used ta bother me. But now I been thinkin’ what he said, an’ I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he found’ he didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, ‘cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn’ think I was even listenin’. But I know now a fella ain’t no good alone.”

Tom, having hit one of the cops who came out to the camp, is in hiding. If he is taken in for questioning, he will be discovered to be breaking parole, and thus forced to return to prison. Unable and unwilling yet to escape, he has waited. Now, however, he knows he must leave his family, to keep from dragging them into his troubles. He comes to say good-bye to Ma, who has known that he will eventually have to leave. Tom tells her of his thoughts as he was in hiding. He remembers one of the many rambling spiritual talks that Casy, the preacher, always came up with. Casy was killed in the fight, but still his words linger in Tom’s mind. Tom reflects that, as Casy said, each person is part of a bigger soul, rather than an individual. A man isolated, whether by choice or by force, is no good. People belong with other people.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 28

Tom laughed uneasily, “Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one—an’then—.”

“Then what, Tom?”

“Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there….”

Tom is preparing to leave his family, but taking time to say good-bye only to his mother. He reflects further on Casy’s notion that all people belong to a single soul, a soul that contains all life, especially all people. Tom tries to make his mother understand that he will be absent in body, but present in spirit, more than that phrase commonly means. He speaks of his place in the world. He is a spirit, the spirit of justice and life. He will be there when there is hunger and a struggle for food. He will be there when the law takes advantage of the weak. He will be in the laughter of children at suppertime. When the hard times are over, and life gets back to normal once again, he will also be there. Tom sees himself as a symbol of the people’s struggle for existence, much as Casy had envisioned the spiritual realm once he rejected organized religion.

Analysis of Essential Passages
Tom Joad is symbolic of the spirit of the people at the time of the Great Depression. The individualism that he expresses at the beginning of the novel represents that attitude of self-obsession that characterized the 1920s Jazz Age. Yet with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Americans transitioned slowly from self-absorption to a mass of unhappiness and misery. From a time in which no thought was given for tomorrow, people then gave thought only to where their next meal was going to come from. Without hope, without compassion, without a vision, the America of the 1930s teetered on the brink of total collapse, and people were desperately looking for relief.

Tom’s remark to the truck driver, indicating that sometimes a guy will not be controlled by “some rich bastard” is the voice of bitterness of the capitalistic giants whose reckless business dealings contributed to the financial mess that now encompassed the world. Tom’s time in prison, the consequence of self-defense, hardened him and embittered him toward authorities, whether they represent business, the law, or the government. His continual desire to fight, yet restraining himself out of fear of being discovered to have broken probation, finally breaks out at the end. Unable to control his rage, he strikes the wrong man, and now he is in danger of being sent back to prison.

Tom’s transition from seeing himself as one man fighting alone against the unfairness of life to part of the whole is delineated in his farewell conversation with his mother. Casy, the erstwhile preacher, acted as his mentor rather than his pastor, leading him on to a new understanding of the spirit of the people. As Casy gives his life against the injustice of the law (making him therefore a Christ-figure), the “gospel” of the unity of mankind is passed on to Tom, who now sees himself as a type of apostle, the spirit of the people in their fight for justice and compassion. He will be the spirit that gives people hope and the courage to fight. Beaten down himself, Tom now embodies the will to survive.
In this final scene between Ma and Tom Joad, mother and son, the remembrance of the Pieta, the depiction of the Virgin Mary holding the crucified Christ is played out. As Tom takes upon himself the Christ role that Casy left behind, Ma must willingly give up her son for the salvation of the common people. She sees Tom no longer as just her son, but as something much more. Tom willingly leaves, to be a spirit in the hearts of the people. He is transfigured into a more than human entity. He is the spirit that gives mankind the will to live.

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