Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck portrayed the awakening of a man’s conscience dealing with his troubling trials throughout the novel. The character that goes through this monumental change is Tom Joad, son of two tenant farmers from Oklahoma. Tom’s conscience was changed from a loner who cared nothing about the people to a hardy leader of them. He first looked after his family on their trip that evolved into including the impoverished migrant farmers in California.
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At the beginning of the novel Tom Joad has just been paroled after spending four years in a state prison. He stops at a roadside cafe looking for a ride when he sees a truck with a “No Riders” sticker on it. Tom’s conversation with this trucker is his first witness to the suppression of an honest working man by the larger more wealthy corporations since his release from prison. The trucker tries to socialize with him at this point but Tom is too absorbed into his own interest in keeping to himself.
Arriving at his house with Jim Casey, Tom visits the abandoned house with one corner having been knocked in by a tractor. His family had been compelled to leave their land through repossession by the large corporations another example in Tom’s life how the larger are trying to control the less fortunate. This land had been his family’s source of pride and livelihood throughout his life with them and it’s loss was the first sizable impact on Tom’s conscience that would lead him to an awakening.
After visiting the land the Joad family had lived on for many years Tom and Jim traveled to his Uncle John’s house nearby. There Tom meets his family as they are making preparations to leave for California. Tom’s family has already sold off every valuable possession they own while living under cramped conditions on old and soiled mattresses in a house not built to accommodate the size of the entire family. Tom realizes that a family cannot survive under these destitute conditions unless they cling together as one unit. Because of this realization Tom becomes protective of his family, leaving casting off portions of his selfishness for the betterment of his relatives.
Tom’s final awakening comes when he meets Jim Casy for the final time outside a work camp in the midst of a strike. There Jim Casy tells Tom that the only way the worker’s can obtain law and order as well as, fair wages, is to unite all the migrant workers together and fight against the larger controlling companies. The statement is driven home when he witnesses Jim Casy’s passive resistance in response to the threatened violence by the cops. As the police advance on Jim Casy he yells towards them, ” Listen, you fellas don’ know what you’re doin’. You’re helpin’ to starve kids.” moments before his head is brutally crushed by a pick handle. Enraged by the actions unfolded before him Tom grabs a pick handle and clubs one of the officers to death before hastily fleeing from the scene.
This event finally made possible the awakening of Tom Joad. He recognized that if a common man were to ever get a fair chance to live their life, they would be forced to do so under a united cause. Tom’s awakening came slowly as he struggled to understand the toils of needing, not only to care for his family but organize the migrant workers into a force where they can achieve fair rights. During the final chapters of the novel Tom recognizes the importance of Jim Casy’s work to unify the people bringing about a final awakening of his conscience.