Tom Joad - The Truth

by Kameron

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A Brief Background

Tom Joad was incarcerated for murder in self defense. After returning to his family at their home in Oklahoma they were forced to move on to California due to the lack of jobs present. Shortly after, Tom became one of the leaders of his family as they ventured into new land seeking new opportunities, acting as the epitome of morality.

Tom's Analysis

The Oversoul

Throughout the novel, Tom Joad simply seems to have the answer to everything. Part of this could stem from Steinbeck's use of Tom as a main character. When Reverend Casy makes a speech about his belief in one, large human soul, Tom comments, "Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of'" (24 Steinbeck). Tom's comment encompasses the idea of the "over soul" that transcendentalism is associated with. Compared to the other important characters in the novel, Tom seems to be the most knowledgeable and perceptive of his family.


This may come as a surprise to some readers, given that for a good portion of his life, Tom was away in prison, separated from society; this, however, is the most interesting factor about Tom: despite him being in prison for a long portion of his and his family's life, he still maintains a reputable basis of knowledge of the world he came into. Some would even argue that Tom manages to be more aware of his surroundings than other members of the Joad family, which is why he is viewed as a moral character of the story.

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The Fambly

After reuniting with his family, there are some doubts that Tom got released from prison legally. Ma even asks him if he broke out from prison, to which Tom denies. Despite the false rumors, Tom's little brother Al looks up to him. Al sees Tom as a role model; someone that he deems acceptable of a person given the troubles the family is faced with. Even though Tom was incarcerated, Al still sees Tom as a moral brother to look up to. This further leads the reader to believe that Tom truly knows what is right and what is wrong in the novel.


In the novel the narrator explains : "Al knew that even he had inspired some admiration among boys of his own age because his brother had killed a man" (84 Steinbeck). While Al's motives for looking up to his brother may be questionable, he -without a doubt- still views Tom as a morally acceptable and "good" person. The idea of Tom killing a man adds more of a "badass" vibe to his older brother, which makes Tom more admirable to Al.

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Tom's Morals

As Tom explains his time in prison to Muley and Casy, he speaks briefly about how the murder affect him. Tom explains to the two : "'Course you get goddamn good an' sick a-doin' the same thing after day for four years. If you done somepin you was ashamed of, you might think about that. But, hell, if I seen Herb Turnbull comin' for me with a knife right now, I'd squash him down with a shovel again" (54 Steinbeck). Here Tom is explaining how he stands by the decisions he makes. Tom shapes his personality in this chapter to be an honorable and honest man, which is arguably the main reason why Tom should be considered the epitome of morality in the novel.


While it could be argued that Tom is not a moral man given his prison sentence, his killing was in self defense. Tom doesn't allow all the rumors to get to him, as he claims in the aforementioned quote that he stands by his choices. Tom believes that people - or at least he - should be honest and stand behind their decisions. He remarks how he would kill Herb again in self defense because it was morally justified - after all, Herb attacked him first. In hindsight, Tom can be viewed as a moral, honest member of the Joad family.

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Final Thought

Tom is portrayed as an honest man who stands by his choices and beliefs throughout The Grapes of Wrath. Regardless of his sojourn in prison Tom manages to be "on top" of his and his family's situation regarding the Dust Bowl. His family value and respect his presence with them on their journey to California, and even his little brother looks up to him as a role model of sorts. He maintains a certain level of morality that no other character in the novel can surpass; therefore, Tom can be considered the epitome of morality in the novel.

Works Cited

Outside Sources

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1992.