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Tom does his best to protect his family and stand up for what he thinks is right, sometimes leading to fights in which he must defend either himself or his loved ones.

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Ma finds herself taking a greater leadership role when she feels Pa is not being proactive. A pillar of strength for her family, Ma has a realistic view on hardship, acknowledging tough times but knowing that the family unit will see them through. Pa Joad: A good man and hard worker, Pa leads the Joads west after the family is evicted from their farm. The difficulties the family faces on the journey to California, including the inability to find work, wear Pa down.

When solutions begin to fail him, he lets Ma assume the role of decision-maker. Jim Casy: A former preacher who has lost his faith in organized religion, Casy accompanies the Joads on their trek. He initiates a change in Tom Joad by inspiring him to further the cause of helping the migrant people. Rose of Sharon Rosasharn : Married and pregnant but still a bit childish, the oldest Joad daughter matures over the course of the novel.

Rose of Sharon and her husband Connie dream of living the city life in California, but after Connie abandons her, she shows signs of stress. She worries that sinful behavior will kill her baby, and ultimately gives birth to a stillborn child, probably due to malnutrition.

Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath

Not held in high regard by the Joads except for Rose of Sharon , their wariness is confirmed when Connie abandons his wife and unborn child shortly after reaching California. He refuses to leave the land that he knows and loves, forcing the family to sedate him so they can get on their way. Grampa dies not long after he is taken from his home; he gets buried in Oklahoma. She pokes fun at and challenges her husband. Have you ever found a cause that is so important to you that you would risk your life and freedom for it? Tom Joad , the protagonist of the novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, finds such a cause, and it changes his whole life.

When we first meet Tom, he has just been released from prison after serving four years for manslaughter. He was imprisoned for killing a man with a shovel during a fight. Now, Tom has made an important decision about the way he lives his life. He will not worry too much about the future or regret the past. Tom's going to live in the present. Much of Tom's eventual turn to selflessness is learned from preacher Jim Casy. Casy is the first familiar face Tom meets when he's released from prison, even before he makes it back to his family. Casy tells Tom that he's no longer preaching, but he still has a lot to say about how people must work together to achieve greater good.

When Tom gets home, his family is overjoyed to see him, and Casy's words about universal good fade from his mind, overshadowed by the immediate dire situation his family is in. It soon becomes clear that the only way the family will survive is to leave Oklahoma and head west, where there is hope of finding work and a better life. Tom's attitude of selfishness changes to one of a man who cares for his family. As the family travels toward California, Tom works to keep them together. Unfortunately, almost immediately, members die or leave.

Their dog is hit by a car, both Granma and Grampa die, and Tom's oldest brother, Noah, deserts the family as well. Tom worries that his family is falling apart but feels powerless to stop it.


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Tom must step up to help the family, including digging a grave for his grandfather and fixing the family car. As they travel further west, Tom begins to understand just what they are facing. The terrible conditions the migrants have to deal with becomes clearer. Tom is hushed for speaking up, and others are hurt and arrested. During a scuffle at a camp, Tom trips a police officer. When the other officers arrive, Casy takes blame for stopping the officer and is arrested. Tom tries to lead the family further south, but they are stopped by people who have had enough of the 'Okies'.

Tom is very upset at the loss of the opportunity for his family. And as he gets further west, Tom's concern, which had been first for himself and then for his family, widens into a much more altruistic, general dismay at the plight of the migrant workers. He wonders, ''Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of. When the family finally reaches the Weedpatch camp, which is a nice place free of corruption, Tom learns about the Farmer's Association, and eventually finds a job to help his family. He also manages to stop a riot-in-progress at the camp, though the unrest isn't completely gone.

The family eventually leaves Weedpatch in search of steadier work, and Tom finds Jim Casy. Casy tells Tom that he is now working to unionize the migrant workers.

Gov. Quinn: This Drought Makes Us All ‘Tom Joad’

In fact, he's started the strike happening now. But Casy and Tom don't get to have a long conversation, as police arrive and call Casy a communist. Casy protests and a police officer kills him with a pick-ax. Tom, enraged, kills the officer who killed Casy and then, realizing what he has done, runs away. When the time comes for Tom to leave the family, he does it for their benefit and not his own. He knows that he is now wanted for killing the police officer, and he promises that he'll leave so he doesn't endanger his family.

But before he says his goodbyes, he vows to continue working for the benefit of the migrant workers.

Purpose in Life

Faced with the realities of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and his family's suffering, Tom is unable to hold to his initial selfishness. Instead, he devotes himself to changing the future for others affected by the Depression and the horrible conditions on farms and in camps. He explains his mission, ''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. In this way, we see that Tom has completed his change. From only caring for himself, he transitioned to caring for his own family, and finally to caring for all migrant workers and being willing to do anything to help them. Tom Joad has found something to believe in. Though he starts the novel as a somewhat selfish former convict, his family's hardship turns him into an altruistic hero.

Tom is introduced to the idea of selflessness from the former preacher Jim Casy. Then, the conditions of the migrant workers, including his own family, shock Tom into the realization that he needs to act. When he sees Casy killed by a police officer, Tom kills that officer. He leaves the family for their benefit, but leaves believing that together, people can be stronger than the powers that control them. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Create your account. Already a member? Log In. Already registered?

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    The Ghost of Tom Joad (Live Video Version featuring Tom Morello)

    Explore over 4, video courses. Find a degree that fits your goals. Try it risk-free for 30 days. Instructor: Dori Starnes Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education. Save Save Save. Want to watch this again later? Faced with terrible conditions at home and persecuted in California, migrant workers had it tough.