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
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.