The Grapes of Wrath Tom Joad Quotes

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Tom Joad is one of the central characters in ''The Grapes of Wrath'' and goes through important transitions during the book. In this lesson, we will look at some of the quotes that highlight aspects of Tom's character and the changes he undergoes.

Brief Character Summary

The Grapes of Wrath begins as Tom has just gotten out of jail, where he served time for murder, and is on his way home to rejoin his family, which consists of his parents, uncle, and siblings. He finds his home abandoned and locates his family staying at his uncle's house, where they are about to leave for California to find work. Tom joins them and becomes one of the family leaders as they travel and more from job to job, trying to make sense of the new world they live in. As they continue to move around and meet with new obstacles, Tom loses some of his ego (his sense of his own importance) and brashness, and begins to see himself as a part of a bigger and more meaningful whole, which he describes as a shared soul (a spirit, in this case connecting all of humanity).

Ready for a Fight

Throughout the book, Tom is frequently saying he will fight any effort to keep him or his family down, and that he will respond violently to any mistreatment. In Chapter 20, when Floyd, a man Tom meets in the migrant camp, tries to explain to Tom how migrant workers are treated in California, Tom replies: 'I ain't gonna take it. Goddamn it, I an' my folks ain't no sheep. I'll kick the hell outa somebody.' This quote is an example of the many times Tom responds with a similar threat, and a similar claim that he and his family won't be treated like animals. While this is an understandable and respectable position to take, it also represents Tom's commitment to pride above everything else. Moreover, Tom draws a sharp distinction between his family and the rest of the world - he is always claiming that he and his family won't accept poor treatment, but does not usually make similar declarations about everyone else.

Living with Dignity

In the same vein, it is very important to Tom to live with a sense of dignity. Again, this in itself is fine - the issue is more that Tom is focused on his own pride rather than on the just treatment of people in general. In the beginning of the book, when Tom is looking for his parents, he meets Muley, a neighbor who has taken to sleeping in a cave, as he no longer has a home and is unwelcome on the land. Tom finds this shocking, and claims, 'I ain't gonna sleep in no cave.' This is both ironic and foreshadowing (meaning that it refers indirectly to something that occurs later in the novel), as by the end of the book, Tom is forced to do exactly that. Caves often work as metaphors in literature as places of darkness - spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, etc. - from which people eventually emerge with new wisdom. This clearly works in Tom's case, as it is only when he finally enters a cave that he is able to walk out with a new understanding of the world and his role in it.

Tom's Speech

The most important words from Tom come toward the end of the book, in Chapter 28, and perhaps make up the most famous speech from the work. At this stage, Tom has murdered the man who killed his friend Casy, and is in hiding (in a cave!) as he decides what to do next. Tom has matured significantly by this point, and has adjusted his view of the world:

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