The Character of Tom Joad
The Character of Tom Joad In the novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck delves deep into each character thoroughly. Throughout the book, Steinbeck uses intricate descriptions in order to depict the development and subtleties of each character. Each character has a unique personality that essentially develops into new qualities and attributes. Such development is seen in many characters throughout the book, including Rose of Sharon. She is seen as immature at the start of the book, but by the end, she quickly learns to take the world into account and grows to become less selfish.
This is only one of the substantial growths in character can be seen in the characters of this novel. One of the many characters in this novel that greatly portrays this character development is Tom Joad. Tom Joad, as a character, changes severely throughout the book from the selfish person he was, to a figure committed to bettering the future, as well as an improved leader for the family.
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Several examples of Tom’s changes can be seen throughout the book, as a result from his experiences with Jim Casy, as well as conversations he has with his mother.
Tom Joad shows that he is a selfish person at the very beginning of the book. At the beginning of the novel, Tom is introduced as a former fugitive now on parole. At most, the reader may think that he is the antagonist of the book because of the fact that he had killed a man. Tom is introduced as selfish from the very moment he is described. “‘I’d do what I done-again,” said Joad. “I killed a guy in a fight. We was drunk at a dance. He got a knife in me, an’ I killed him with a shovel that was layin’ there,”’ (25). Tom Joad was not reluctant at all when he was telling his story of how he got into prison.
The fact that he does not care that he killed a man, and even offered to do it again shows that he is a selfish person. He did not care for another mans life, and did not bother to look for an alternate solution to the situation he was in. He only cared about himself when it came to killing, and showed no mercy. If given the decision to take back what he had done, Tom Joad would have kept things the way they were, proving his egotism. As the novel progresses, Tom transforms from this selfish nature to become a caring person. Several examples of this transformation are seen throughout various chapters.
When the Joads are traveling west to California with the Wilson’s, Tom offers to help them when their car breaks down. “Tom said nervously, ‘Look Al. I done my time, an’ now it’s done… Let’s jus’ try an’ get a con-rod an’ the hell with the res’ of it. ’” Tom is showing a little more care for other people’s problems, however, he still has a selfish side because he still does not regret killing a man. He knew he had to pay for it by going to prison, but he still believes he did nothing wrong by taking a man’s life. By offering to help out with the Wilson’s’ car, he is on his way to becoming a less selfish person.
As the book draws to a close, Tom stumbles upon Jim Casy again, who is murdered in front of his own eyes. As a result, he is thrown into a silent rage and kills another man which causes him to hide in the forest. He realizes that he is a danger to his family, so he sacrifices his safety in order for his family to be safe. ‘“Ya can’t do that, Ma. I tell you I’m jus’ a danger to ya,”’ (391). There is a clear transition from Tom acting selfish at the beginning of the book to him acting completely selfless at the end. This selflessness also contributed to him being a figure committed to bettering the future.
As Tom Joad becomes more selfless, this particular quality helps him to become a person who has the future in mind. The main ideals that influence him are the philosophies of Jim Casy as the Joad family is traveling west to California. Tom is first exposed to Jim Casy’s principles in the very beginning of their journey to California. Casy says to Tom, ‘“I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang,’” (24).
Tom begins to believe in Casy’s beliefs as he tells him of his ideals and as they spend time together. Tom begins to follow Casy and his belief of “the human sperit,” and that it could be humans that we need to spend time on; not God or Jesus. This idea gradually begins to dwell on Tom, and it results in him becoming less selfish over time. He begins to be more helpful towards his family and towards others in general, and becomes valuable to the family. The ideals Casy invoked in Tom clearly made him committed towards the future by the end of the book. As Tom was hiding in the woods, he told Ma his thoughts that were inspired by Jim Casy. “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,”’ (419). Jim Casy’s death allowed Tom to realize that he wanted to help the world using what he had learned from Casy’s ideals. After all of Casy’s advice, Tom had finally changed his view of the world.
He realized he had a purpose in life, and he wanted to use it to protect humanity. Tom rambled onto Ma about how he wanted to help whoever was in need and to make the world a better place. This is far from what he aspired to do at the beginning of the book. As the novel progresses, Tom’s character develops from wanting to live a normal life to wanting to live the life of a person who wants to better the world. As Tom gains this new view of the world, he begins to become a leader for the Joad family. The Joad family comes across many hardships as they make their way across the United States to California.
Life changing experiences were brought upon the family members, including the death of loved ones, such as Grandpa and Grandma. Pa was beginning to lose his authority as the figure to look up to, and began to look weak. Ma was doing the best she could to help the family, as she was main person who interacted with everyone, as well as made food for the family. As the Joads made their way across the states, a father figure had to spring up in order to keep the family together. Al was not yet mature enough, as he was only seventeen, and expressed constantly that he only cared about himself.
We can see this attitude when he talks about leaving the family when they get to California, as well as when he gets married to a person he knows for only a few weeks. With the older and younger figures out of the loop, Tom was the likely candidate to be the new leader of the Joad family. Tom was practically forced to become the leader to guide his family, as no one else either volunteered or was capable of taking the job. When the Joad family arrives at the Weedpatch government camp, the first thing Tom does after they settle down is look for work. “Don’t you wake nobody up, but when they get up, you tell ‘em I got a chancet at a job, an’ I’m a-goin’ for it. Tell Ma I et breakfas’ with some neighbors. You hear that? ”’ (292). Tom acts like a leader by trying to find work and providing for his family in any way possible. This leadership role had built up his character because he had to step up into a new and unfamiliar role, making him a stronger person. Tom Joad has developed greatly throughout the novel The Grapes of Wrath. There was an immense change in the character of Tom from the beginning of the book to the end of the book.
He transformed from the selfish person he was to a caring, selfless person. Including this increase in character, Tom also committed to bettering the future through adopting Casy’s teachings. Jim Casy’s principles were the driving force for all of his character development. The commitment to better the future allowed Casy to become a selfless person. By bettering the future, one has to care for others, so by using Casy’s teachings, he was able to further develop into a better person. In addition, Tom has to adopt a role as the leader for the Joad family.
By doing this, he is putting himself into a new situation which only strengthens his character and tests his ability to keep the family together. Casy’s teachings also apply to Tom’s becoming a leader. Due to the role of Tom becoming a person who wants to better the future, one of the roles in which he could promote this ideal is by being a leader. By leading the people he is close to, he would be able to become someone who can lead other groups of people in order to help better the future. Tom grows into a whole new person by the end of this book, and learns many new things from the people around him.