The Transmogrification Of Tom Joad In Steinbeck's Grapes Of Wrath

1977 words - 8 pages

As Jonathan Swift once said, “Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.” The Great Depression was a time of considerable sorrow for countless people across the United States. A crumbling economy and suffering industry coupled with hard climate conditions caused widespread unemployment, and forced a multitude of people off of their land. Entire plantations were crushed due to the lack of growing crops, and families were forced to migrate thousands of miles in order to seek a new and better life. Yet not all felt the hard effects of this bleak era. Many of the larger corporations and banks who fared better contributed to the amount of depression among the people by forcing people who could not pay for their mortgaged land off of it. These “big dogs” could not understand the situation and wants of the common people. The cruelty that these people, who ultimately became migrants, faced at the hands of others, is the crux of the novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck focuses on presenting the hardships and the cruelty that migrants faced through the central character in his novel: Tom Joad. The Joad family as a whole represents a prime example of the sort of family that endured hardships during this trying era. Steinbeck develops Tom from a selfish and self-centered character to a fully realized and complete character through his presentation of events to Tom and the effects of the events in Tom's life in order to show the corruptness of human nature.
Steinbeck’s presentation of specific events to Tom shapes his personality and perception of the world, more specifically the intricacies of human nature. The first obstacle that Steinbeck presents Tom with is the truck driver at the beginning of the novel. Steinbeck uses the truck driver to show Tom’s misperception of the world. Tom easily manipulates the truck driver into letting Tom hitchhike with him. This event exhibits Tom’s true character and reveals Tom to be an egotist: a person with only his own interests in mind.
Tom’s characterization as an acquisitive parallels the attitudes of the major banks and corporations that evicted hundreds of families off of their land and into the wilderness. Louis Owens states that, “Tom is a loner who begins the novel looking for [a way to improve his own condition and meet his interests].” This conjecture coincides perfectly with the aura that Tom projects at the beginning of the novel; an aura of self-absorption and greed. Tom’s paltry attitude toward the well being of the truck driver, in terms of the truck driver losing his job by breaking the rules, reflects a thoughtless and self-serving nature, just as the corrupt corporations and banks seek to gain a profit for themselves and bury the small farmers in a place that they cannot cause any sort of trouble. While Tom does exhibit selfish qualities, such as arrogance and blatant disregard for others’ well being, he does also express a genuine...

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