Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he foun’ he didn’t have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, ’cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ’less it was with the rest, an’ was whole.
As Tom bids good-bye to Ma Joad in Chapter 28, he relates to her this bit of Jim Casy’s wisdom. His statement not only echoes Casy’s definition of holiness in Chapter 8 but also testifies to the transformation of Tom’s character. Enlightened by his friend’s teaching and his own experiences, Tom no longer focuses his energies only on the present moment. Instead, realizing his responsibility to his fellow human beings, he starts on a path toward bettering the future, helping generations of workers yet to come. In this way, Tom becomes more than just “a little piece of a great big soul”; he joins with a universal spirit, thereby becoming “whole.”
The quotation also speaks to Casy’s notion, questioned at times in the rest of the novel, that a human-to-human connection always takes precedence over an individual’s connection to the land. Casy has acknowledged the spiritual value of nature by going out into “the wilderness” to find his soul, but he has found that the wilderness offers no sustenance for his spirit unless he feels joined to other human spirits. Other characters in the novel seem to contest this view: Grampa refuses to leave the Oklahoma farm and must be drugged so that the family can load him into the truck; the Joads’ neighbor, Muley Graves, similarly refused to leave for California with his family, and ultimately succeeded in sending them on without him. Both men represent an understandable reluctance to be separated from their land: the land has shaped their identities and constitutes part of who they are. But the Joads, like Casy, believe ultimately in the superior ability of interpersonal connections to sustain their grandfather’s life and spirit. Although Grampa dies soon after the trip begins, he has not died a lonely death.