The Grapes of Wrath

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Tom Joad Character Analysis

Tom Joad is the novel’s protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, he has just been paroled after serving a four-year prison sentence for killing a man in self-defense. He is strong, stoic, principled, and observant; during the trip to California, the Joad family comes to rely on Tom for precisely these qualities. Tom is very principled, and injustice enrages him. This rage can get the better of him—the most notable example of this is when Tom retaliates for the murder of Jim Casyby killing the offending policeman. Over the course of the novel, Tom comes to realize the importance and strength of the migrant worker community, and at the novel's close, he has decided to dedicate himself to organizing the workers to improve their quality of life.

Tom Joad Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath

The The Grapes of Wrath quotes below are all either spoken by Tom Joad or refer to Tom Joad. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Grapes of Wrath published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“…sometimes a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.”

Related Characters: Tom Joad (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom Joad is traveling home after being released from prison, and here he is trying to cajole a truck driver into giving him a ride, even though the truck bears a sticker that reads "No Riders" on it. Tom appeals to the driver's sense of decency and community, one that for Tom exists between fellow inhabitants of the dusty Midwest. This community, he implies, has nothing to do with the centralized, powerful corporation that attempts to dictate how things are run far away. 

Tom thus makes a strong distinction between the "rich bastard" that holds the money and power, and the "good guy" that may be more economically vulnerable, but makes up for it by emphasizing his goodness and humanity. Of course, these lofty sentiments have a more practical side as well, since it's in Tom's interest to have the truck driver give him a ride, but the passage is also a legitimate example of the way Tom attempts to claim greater dignity for himself and those around him in general.

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Chapter 10 Quotes

And now they [the Joads] were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them.

Related Characters: Tom Joad, Ma Joad, Pa Joad, Rose of Sharon, Grampa Joad, Granma Joad, Al Joad
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Some of the members of the family had gone into town to sell everything in the house that they can. They have returned, however, with only eighteen dollars for all of it. They felt that their belongings were worth much more, but the buyer wouldn't pay more than that for them, and they could not find a way to "beat" this system. This is the first hint for the Joads that their plan of salvation, their migration to California, will be beset with difficulties just as great as those they have faced in Oklahoma. Their battles with the "system" will not end just because they are leaving this one physical place. Indeed, it is their lack of understanding how exactly this system works, and what its power might have in store for them, that increases their suspicion and even despair before the long road ahead of them.

Chapter 28 Quotes

“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 foun' 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.”

Related Characters: Tom Joad (speaker), Jim Casy
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom's secret is out, and he will now have to flee the camp in order not to be caught and punished for his crime. As Ma Joad generously gives him much of her savings, they talk about what Tom will do next. The book has come a long way from its beginnings, with Jim Casy's rambling remarks on what he learned since deciding to leave his position as preacher, but it turns out that Casy's words have actually had an enormous impact on Tom - even though even Tom didn't realize that he was affected by them at the time.

Tom too is in search of a bigger, more meaningful community, and he is struck by the recollection that for Jim Casy, isolating oneself in the wilderness is actually no guarantee of goodness. Instead, Tom is convinced that he must try to work with others to enact change. Like Casy, Tom is developing an alternative to the official catechism of the Christian faith he was born with, attempting to understand how humans relate to one another and how they might better connect.

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Tom Joad Character Timeline in The Grapes of Wrath

The timeline below shows where the character Tom Joad appears in The Grapes of Wrath. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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Tom Joad, a protagonist of the novel, is introduced. He is young, tall, and weather-beaten. He... (full context)
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When the truck driver returns and seems wary of giving Tom a ride, Tom appeals to the trucker: “sometimes a guy’ll be a good guy even... (full context)
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Tom explains that he’s on his way back to his father’s forty acre farm. The driver... (full context)
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Throughout the ride, the truck driver pressures Tom for more information about himself—his questions “spread nets” and “set traps.” Tom senses this “secret... (full context)
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Finally, once the truck nears Tom’s destination, Tom acknowledges the driver’s nosiness: “You give me a goin’-over when I first got... (full context)
Chapter 4
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After watching the truck depart, Tom walks down the road barefoot, with his shoes wrapped in his coat. He comes across... (full context)
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Tom finds a man sitting in the shade of a tree, singing a hymn. The man... (full context)
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Casy goes on to explain why he has given up being a preacher. He tells Tom that he was plagued by guilt for having sex with girls from his congregations, but... (full context)
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Casy asks Tom about his father, Ol’ Tom Joad, and Tom confesses that he hasn’t heard anything from... (full context)
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The two men head off in the direction of Tom’s homestead. Tom reveals that he and his family are squatters, saying that he expects his... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Tom and Casy observe that the Joad homestead was quickly and recently abandoned. One side of... (full context)
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...neighbor, Muley Graves, is spotted as he walks through the cotton fields by Casy and Tom. They speak with him, and Muley talks at length about how he has chosen to... (full context)
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...animals he can catch on the prairies. He shows his kills of the day, and Tom gets excited to see fresh meat for the first time in four years. Muley somewhat... (full context)
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...are forced to hide from a police car’s searchlights to avoid being arrested for trespassing. Tom wants to put up a fight, but Muley tells him that he doesn’t understand how... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Tom and Casy continue towards Uncle John’s house. Tom has been awoken early by Muley, who... (full context)
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...up in Uncle John’s yard is a modified jalopy with a truck bed attached, and Tom notices right away that this means his family is getting ready to hit the road... (full context)
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Grampa Joad, disheveled and mischievous, appears to greet Tom; Grampa is followed by his wife, Granma Joad. Tom’s older brother, Noah, also comes to... (full context)
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Finally, Tom inquires about the other members of his family. Uncle John has gone into town with... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Ma Joad tells Tom about her hopes for California. She remembers seeing handbills advertising high wages and bountiful harvests.... (full context)
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Casy asks Tom, Ma, and Grampa Joad if he can come along to California with them. Ma quickly... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...any money to pay for gas. Al assures him that the family isn’t begging, and Tom is indignant at the attendant’s assumption. The attendant explains that most of the people who... (full context)
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Tom snaps at the fat man for speaking unsympathetically of the migrants. Then Tom notices the... (full context)
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...down. The Joads and the Wilsons interact tersely at first, but become fast friends once Tom appeals to the Wilsons’ hospitality. (full context)
Chapter 16
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...takes the car’s failure as an indication of his incompetence, and he lashes out at Tom when Tom insinuates that Al may have been responsible for the breakdown. (full context)
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Tom, Al, and Casy volunteer to stay with the car while the group continues on. Pa... (full context)
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Tom and Al work on fixing the car. Al tries to bring up personal topics, but... (full context)
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To find the replacement part they need, Tom and Al go to a junkyard in town. They find the part, and hang around... (full context)
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...rest of the group at a campsite. The camp proprietor, a local, attempts to charge Tom for sleeping on his property. Tom refuses defiantly, and goes to sleep down the road. (full context)
Chapter 18
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At the river, Pa and Tom encounter a boy and his father, who are returning from California after being unable to... (full context)
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Noah tells Tom that he can no longer go on. He is entranced by the water of the... (full context)
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The Joads prepare to leave quickly, fearing the cops. Tom tells Pa that Noah has left on his own, and Pa blames himself for the... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Tom meets another young man, Floyd Knowles. Floyd tells Tom that the large farms operate by... (full context)
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Floyd tells Tom and Al that he’s heard of work up north in Santa Clara Valley. As the... (full context)
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Seeing Casy give himself up to protect Tom causes Uncle John anguish, and John needs to get drunk to cope with it. Ma... (full context)
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Tom returns to his family. He tells Pa that they need to leave, because the camp... (full context)
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Tom goes to look for Uncle John. Tom discovers his uncle singing hymns off the side... (full context)
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...them to turn around, saying that they don’t want to see Okies in their town. Tom smells alcohol on his breath. Tom turns the car around and tries to stop himself... (full context)
Chapter 22
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The Joads arrive at the Weedpatch government camp. A night watchman tells Tom that the government camp has no police presence, as the migrants elect their own police.... (full context)
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Tom has breakfast with Timothy and Wilkie Wallace, who offer to try to get him a... (full context)
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...and Uncle John come home empty-handed: they couldn’t find work. Ma is hopeful, trusting that Tom has found work. (full context)
Chapter 24
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The dance begins. Tom and other young men keep watch for the riot-starters, and they notice three suspicious characters.... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...in poor shape after a month in the government camp. Winfield is very ill, and Tom has been the only man able to find work. Ma Joad insists that they leave... (full context)
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Before the Joads leave, Tom sits with his friends from the Weedpatch camp. Tom concludes that the secret to the... (full context)
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...nearby. On the way to the worksite, Al deliberately runs over a gopher snake, and Tom reprimands him. (full context)
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After nightfall, Tom sneaks out to learn more about the strike outside the compound. He comes across a... (full context)
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Men with flashlights approach Casy and Tom. One of them swings a pick handle at Casy, striking him in the head and... (full context)
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Tom returns to the tent. The next morning, he explains to the entire family what happened... (full context)
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The family moves into a boxcar near a plantation. Tom sets up camp in a culvert nearby, and Ma plans to secretly bring him food. (full context)
Chapter 28
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Winfield tells Ma that Ruthie has told on Tom. Another girl bullied Ruthie and took her Cracker Jack. In response, Ruthie boasted that her... (full context)
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Ma advises Tom to travel far away, and offers him seven dollars to take with him. Tom reveals... (full context)
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On her way back from visiting Tom, a farm owner approaches Ma and offers her work on his cotton plantation. Ma agrees... (full context)