Tom Joad

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Tom Joad is a fictional character from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Henry Fonda portrayed the character in John Ford's film adaptation. For this, he occupies Slot #12 on the "Heroes" list of AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.

Role in the novel[edit]

Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where- wherever you look. 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. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’- I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build- why, I’ll be there.

–Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath narrates the story of Tom Joad and his family as they travel from Oklahoma to California in the midst of the Great Depression. The novel begins as Tom returns from prison to his family's farm. His family is forced to leave the farm as a result of the economic turmoil caused by the Dust Bowl. Tom breaks his parole and chooses to help his family. Throughout the novel Tom defends a humanistic point of view. He is willing to break civil law or stand against broader economic mechanisms to follow more humane and universal principles of morality and justice.

In popular culture[edit]

Tom Joad has long been an icon of social justice and protest movements. Woody Guthrie used his name in the song, "The Ballad Of Tom Joad". Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called "The Ghost of Tom Joad", the title track of his 1995 album. Springsteen's song has been covered by Rage Against the Machine, including a performance by Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine's guitarist) at the Rock Hall of Fame concert in 2009, and José González's group, Junip. Springsteen added a new version of the song (featuring Tom Morello) on his 2014 album, High Hopes. Mumford and Sons, with Elvis Costello covered the Ghost of Tom Joad in June 2013.