Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath: Character Analysis

Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath: Character Analysis
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‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is a novel written by John Steinbeck in 1939. It was a fictional novel which was based on the period of the Great Depression when families in America had to suffer at the hands of poverty and unemployment. The story is about a family; Joads, that has been striving due to the economic hardships, droughts, unemployment, bank foreclosures, and forced tenant farmers unemployed. The family members were tenant farmers and after their farms were forcefully run down, they moved to California which was a place for opportunities for several such people. The main character of the novel is Tom Joad and his reactions to poverty and the hardships that he had to face will be discussed in this paper and how these reactions justified the basic theme of Steinbeck which was to focus on the difficulties people faced throughout the Great Depression.

The novel begins with the character of Tom Joad as he is released from prison after four years. He was convicted of manslaughter and as soon as he is released he sets off to his family in Oklahoma. The character of Tom is seen in a kind of self-interest in the beginning and he claims to be a person who would spend his time and energy in the present rather in the future worries or regrets of the past. He is a straight forward person who looks for ways to improve his present without talking or remembering his past events. In the novel, he is not seen discussing his life before he was convicted or any other thing about it. However, we do know that it is the period of the Great Depression when he is returning to his family and their farms after years.   

The author clearly indicates at the beginning of the novel with the help of Tom’s beliefs and explanation that he has had a tough life and his future which is almost out of reach is something that he isn’t concerned about. It is easily believable that he doesn’t want to think about his future because he is uncertain about it. He builds this philosophy of life as he is running away from his fears. He knows his family is striving for living and his conviction tells that he is short-tempered. Thus, Tom strives to fight against his fears and anger by thinking about the present time only. As he adopts the philosophy of ‘seize the day’, he is showing his strength and thoughtfulness towards a better future.

As Tom reaches his house in Oklahoma, he finds out that all his family farms are now deserted and his family no more lives there. Through his neighbors, he finds out that his family has moved and migrated to California and so have all other families in that area. Tom is upset with the news and goes to his uncle’s place to look for his parents where he finds them packing the few possessions they have remaining and setting off to California. Throughout their journey, Tom emphasizes the disciple of Jim Casy who is a former preacher. He says that ‘a human being, when acting alone, can have little effect on the world, and one can achieve wholeness only by devoting oneself to one’s fellow human beings’ (Steinbeck 56).

One of the main themes of the novel is the inhuman behavior that develops due to the difference in the social and economic class. As the family migrates to California, the author shows that they suffer miserable behavior at the hands of fellow human beings. The author writes, ‘to California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness’ (Steinbeck 91). It was because of the poverty and unemployment levels that the difference between the rich and the poor had greatly widened. To these injustices, Tom decides that he will not stay quiet and he will not work for the bread of his family at the cost of taking away bread from another family.

Tom gets into a series of arguments with landowners who make the conditions for the dependent workers tough. Despite the fact that his whole family earns, they are unable to buy themselves a decent meal. Tom’s family then starts to live in a government camp where they make decent friends and find good jobs. Tom is now strong and clear towards his ideas and aims. He learns that his camp is in danger but uses his tactics to defuse the danger. By the end of the novel, he works for the organizing of the migrant workers into a union.

The character of Tom is a very influential character for the story as Steinbeck uses his ideology and reactions to explain the conditions of the migrant workers at the time of the economic hardships.   

Works Cited: Steinbeck John. The Grapes of Wrath. USA: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.