After Tom Joad, the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, gets freed from prison, he goes through a series of upheavals in his personal life. The character arc is defined by slow but steady, step-by-step transformation of values. Tom Joad was a pessimist who did not concern himself with other people’s feelings. During his journey to the West, however, and with the support of a preacher called Jim Casey, Tom Joad turns into a man who sees life in a much lighter light and prioritizes people over himself (Engel, 220). In a way, his character arc allows him to overcome the wrath that the previous events and experiences have caused him.
Tom Joad is first introduced as a man who dedicates his life to the here and now. Tom used to live day to day, relying on the philosophy of seize the day. Tom is eventually able to commit to the idea that the future can be better and to constantly looking ahead with the support of pastor Jim Casey (Käck, 192). This concept is conveyed to Tom when he first meets his family at his Uncle John’s residence. As they prepare to move to California, the financial circumstances of the household become progressively worse. Tom recognizes that the family will not be able to continue further unless a drastic change occurs. This insight prompts Tom to consider the future, believing that what is ahead will be better. This also causes Tom to become more protective of his family, putting his selfishness aside and caring more for his relatives’ needs.
Because Tom’s family is all he has, he quickly understands that he must prioritize their needs above his own. When Tom initially heard that his family was moving to the West, he was hesitant to join them. There were no incentives for Tom to accomplish anything. This all changed when Tom recognized that his family was all he had and that he needed to do everything he could to aid them. When the Joad family’s automobile breaks down, this is mentioned in the novel. Tom volunteers to make the sacrifice of staying behind and allowing the family to continue while he and Jim work on the automobile. Despite Tom’s mother’s opposition, Tom goes out and attempts to obtain components for the automobile. This demonstrates Tom’s commitment to his family and his willingness to put them first.
Preacher Jim becomes the catalyst in the Tom’s transformation into a newer, better version of himself. When Tom is freed from jail, even before he returns to his family, Casy is the first person he sees and deliberately seeks out, finding comfort in his presence (Ma, 116). The preacher informs Tom that he is not preaching anymore, but he still has a lot to say about the need of individuals working together for the greater good. When Tom returns home, his family is happy to see him, and Casy’s words of universal kindness disappear from his thoughts, overpowered by his family’s current desperate predicament. Additionally, in John Steinbeck’s work The Grapes of Wrath, Tom grows as a character. Tom changes into a cheerful man who prioritizes his loved ones’ needs over his own. Finally, Tom’s growth as a character had a good influence on the Joad family since he was the glue that held the family together and allowed them to survive.
Engel, Pascal. “The Grapes of Wrath and Scorn.” The Value of Emotions for Knowledge. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, (2019)., pp. 215-232.
Käck, Elin. ““They fix’em so you can’t win nothing”: Agency in The Grapes of Wrath.” The Steinbeck Review 14.2 (2017), pp. 184-200.
Ma, Leyuan. “The Religious Touch in The Grapes of Wrath.” Journal of Arts and Humanities 9.4 (2020), pp. 114-118.