45 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1939

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Character Analysis


Tom Joad, the protagonist of The Grapes of Wrath, begins the novel having just been released from prison, returning to his family home. After a lift from a trucker, he discovers his old house derelict and his family evicted. Finding them instead at his Uncle John’s, he joins their trip to California to find work. Having spent four years in prison and now on parole, Tom is eager to stay out of trouble and lead an ordinary life. His incarceration taught him that to survive one must “jus—lay one foot in front a the other” (184). One must focus on the practicalities of day-to-day existence and not worry about the broader political or philosophical picture. At the same time Tom is proud. Prison also taught him to cherish freedom and detest confinement or submission. This is evidenced when, alluding to Muley’s life of hiding from the police, he says, “I ain’t gonna sleep in no cave” (62).

However, these two aspirations are thrown into conflict by Tom’s experiences travelling to and working in California. He witnesses the injustices and indignities suffered by the migrants, and he sees how the police use harassment and intimidation to keep them cowed.