The Grapes of Wrath: The American Ideology
In the novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck using his characters to tell a story. A story that foretells a man who started off as selfish and sucks in his own way but eventually changed into a better person. Each of Steinbeck’s characters has a unique personality and quality to them that bring an unreal American trait to them. One of the many characters in this novel that greatly portrays this type of character development is Tom Joad. Tom Joad, as a character, changes throughout the whole book. First, as a selfish person, he was, to a figure bettering the future, and improved leader for his family. Several examples of Tom’s changes can be seen throughout the book, as a result of his experiences with Jim Casy, and with the help of conversation, he has with his mother.
In society if you were to ask a person who would they put first when it came to priorities, what would they say? Would they say they put their family first? Friends? Or themselves? Secretly Americans want to put themselves first. They believe by doing this there are the only ones who are going to look out for their best interest. Is that how Tom Joad when he went to jail for killing a man? Tom Joad is far from different when it comes to Americans. Both can be selfish at times but change. In this world we all know the truth though, people put family first to protect each other just like Tom Joad.
In the beginning of the novel, Tom Joad is introduced as a selfish man. He was a former fugitive now on parole. At most, readers may think he is the bad guy of the book because of the fact he killed a man. Tom for a moment seems to be selfish because he took a man’s life without even thinking of a second of regret. He described the moment as. “I’d do what I done-again, I killed a guy in a fight. We were drunk at a dance. He got a knife in me, an’ I killed him with a shovel that was layin’ there. Knocked his head plumb to squash”. The fact that he does not care that he killed a man, and even offered to do it again shows he was selfish. Selfish because he was only thinking of his name and not the man he killed.
Tom Joad’s attitude and behavior changes throughout The Grapes of Wrath. He is not the same man who murdered that man because of a fight but instead was a changed man. Throughout the book, Tom became a man who was independent and very devoted to his family. He sacrifices things he wanted to benefit his family. In the beginning, Tom didn’t feel any guilt or shame for killing a man. He honestly would do it all over again if he wanted to. With the morals instilled in him by his family and the strength and love of his mother Tom Joad changed.
Tom Joad became someone bigger than his self, he became a hero. With the help of Jim Casy, he gained through experience intuition, that the moral journey from self to community, from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ From the loyalty he gave to his family he quickly moved it to his community. Being part of a community is something everyone should relate to, yet hard times make people feel alone. They feel as if they can’t relate to anyone and have so many problems. However, in the novel, John Steinbeck writes about a family of migrants who lose everything. They have no money, home, and are forced to move to California, for work. “If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it’s a part of him, and it’s like him… But let a man get property he doesn’t see, or can’t take time to get his fingers in, or can’t be there to walk on it—why, then the property is the man.” This quote identifies the thought process of a tenant farmer being evicted from his home, the land he grew up. At the beginning of the story, the family is in pieces, all wanting to do different things, some want to leave, others want to stay. The Joad’s journey is starting off as hard not knowing what to do. With their loss of friends and the obstacles they overcome, they learn to live together. The family wants to leave the land, on which they spent lives working on. Grandpa Joad even says, “This here’s my country. I b’long here. An’ I don’t give a goddamn if they’s oranges an’ grapes crowdin’ a fella outa bed even. I ain’t a-goin’. This country ain’t no good, but it’s my country. No, you all go ahead. I’ll jus’ stay right here where I b’long.” Grandpa Joad has lived on this farm his whole life, and by leaving now he is leaving his whole life and past behind. This is a heartbreaking moment for members of the Joad family, but they realize they must move on; and Ma Joad says, “All we got is the family unbroken.”
Despite all the things they been through they grow closer together and learn the importance of family and community. They realize that life is not all about the self that there are bigger and more important things than worrying about just yourself. In The Grapes of Wrath, it is seen that hard times bring people together. You can see this Joad family and the migrant community.
Over the time throughout the story, Tom Joad has to be one of the most influential characters in the novel. For someone to hit rock bottom and go to jail for murder and come out and be devoted to their family is an American trait. Nowadays most American will do just about anything for family, would even kill if they have to. Most families fight, break up, makeup, and go through the craziest thing nut still stay together. Tom Joad and his family may have had some problem but has the qualities, promise, and ambition of an American trait.
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