The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck....Is tom Joad a hero?

Essay by Gidz.08High School, 12th gradeA-, March 2009

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In the novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the protagonist, Tom Joad, takes on challenges for himself, and for the greater good of all people, thereby, in essence, becoming a hero. Steinbeck, during the mid-1930s, witnessed people living in horrendous conditions of extreme poverty due to the Great Depression and the agricultural disaster known as the Dust Bowl. He noticed that these people received no aid whatsoever from neither the state of California nor the federal government. The rage he experienced from seeing such treatment fueled his novel The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck sought to change the suffering plight of these farmers who had migrated from the midwest to California. Also, and more importantly, he wanted to suggest a philosophy into the reader, and insure that this suffering would never occur again (Critical 1). Steinbeck shows in The Grapes of Wrath that there is no one man, but one common soul in which we all belong to.

Tom Joad is doubtless the hero of the story. He is probably also the person who undergoes the most remarkable change in the course of the story.

At the beginning of the book we are confronted with a young man who is just trying to find his way back into society. After a few years in prison for manslaughter he is out on parole and tries to make his way to the farm of his father where he wants to start anew. Tom does not have any big plans for the future but just sets one foot in front of another. This is the way he survived his years in prison. He thinks that people should no worry too much about the future, but just take things as they come and try to make the best of every situation.

When he comes back to his family, he is welcomed with open arms. Everybody loves Tom and is happy that he is back. It soon becomes clear that Tom is not the ruthless killer you could expect him to be but just a poor fellow who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tom has a remarkably good relationship with the members of his family. He is respected and loved by everyone and supports his siblings where he can.

Tom and his mother have a very special relationship. Although Ma Joad would never confess it, it seems as if Tom was her favorite child. The relationship between Tom and his mother seems to work without many words. The two seem to have some sort of special connection and can communicate without many words.

Although Tom is actually not allowed to leave the state of Oklahoma, it is clear that he wants to join his family on their way to the west. He is not afraid of getting into trouble although his mother fears that he could be sent back into prison.

In the course of the story Tom undergoes a remarkable change. He seems to become wiser and more mature. He never loses hope or despairs, no matter how desperate things get. Whenever his mother, who is normally a very strong character, is afraid of the future, he manages to calm her down and give her back her hope.

Jim Casey has great influence on Tom. At first, Tom does not really understand the view of the world of the preacher. In the course of the story, Tom begins to understand Casey's view of things more and more.

When Tom Joad witnesses how the preacher is killed, he loses temper and kills the man responsible for the death of the preacher. Tom thinks that it would be best for the family if he left so that he does not endanger them. His mother does not want him to go and so he stays for some time. His family hide him but when Tom's younger sister Ruthie is heard boasting around that her older brother has killed a man and is now hiding from the police, the situation becomes too dangerous and Tom decides to leave for the good of the family.

Before leaving, Tom says good-bye to his mother and gives his famous speech.

"Then it don't matter. Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where - wherever you look. Wherever they's a cop beatin' 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. See? God, I'm talking like Casy. Comes of thinkin' about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes."You can see clearly that Tom's view of life has changes dramatically. He comes to believe that he everybody is a part of a big soul and that we are all linked to each other.

Bibliography:1) Angoff, Charles. Review of The Grapes of Wrath. In North American Review, Summer, 1939, p. 387.

2) Jackson, Joseph Henry. Review of The Grapes of Wrath. In New York Herald Tribune Books, April 16, 1939, p. 3.

3) Fadiman, Clifton. Review of The Grapes of Wrath. In New Yorker, April 15, 1939, p. 101