The Development of Tom Joad

The Grapes of Wrath

In a Nutshell

Tom Joad begins the novel as a very self-centered man, recently released from jail. He meets up with his old minister Jim Casy who changes Tom's heart to be loyal and sympathetic on their migration to California with the rest of the Joad family.
Role in family: Oldest brother

Role in novel: Protagonist

Character: Dynamic

Description: Devoted, sacrificial, multi-layered, strong

Best Friend: Jim Casy


When Tom Joad is first released from prison on parole, he feels no guilt for having just killed a man. Tom is only concerned with himself because the isolation he faced while in prison separated him emotionally from everyone. He tells Casy "I'm jus' puttin' one foot in front a the other" (Steinbeck 173). This shows that Tom only cares about his self interest and tells Casy he would kill another man if the situation were to occur again. His self-absorbed trait is prevalent once again when Jim Casy describes his thoughts on the oversoul. Tom is not compassionate about the idea of everyone having one big soul, but the reader quickly finds out that another layer of Tom's heart was actually listening to JIm Casy as Tom adopts his philosophical outlooks.

Kindhearted and Sacrificial

Beneath the strong and tough layer of Tom Joads heart lays a sacrificial layer to which he will do anything for those he loves. When Tom arrives at the riot Jim Casy had been leading, he watches his friend get killed by an angered officer. Without thought, Tom retaliates and strikes this man to death, proving that he is a true friend and will sacrifice himself for the justice of others. After this when Tom tells his mother and is about to leave to hide from the law he reassures her that "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... 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" (Steinbeck 419). This shows that Tom is willing to immolate his identity and family for the benefit of those he loves and to improve their lives, saying that he will always be a part of them.


Although Tom does not seem to pay attention to any of the religious undertone that Jim Casy presents, when Casy is gone Tom reveals that he was actually comprehending Casy's words. Tom adopted all of Jim Casy's thoughts for his own because Casy inspired him to make his soul part of the collective human spirit. During his period of reflection after Casy's death, Tom states "but now I been thinkin' what he said an' I can remember-all of it...Didn' think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone" (Steinbeck 418). Tom knows he is better of allowing his soul to be a part of the oversoul and all of Casy's words make sense as he knows "now" that Casy was right all along.