I love The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. When I taught American Heritage at BYU and BYU-Idaho, I enjoyed showing the movie version.
The Grapes of Wrath is a very important work of literature within the American social justice tradition. The film, and the book even more so, strongly portrays the devastating impact of poverty and larger economic depressions on both individuals and families. It also masterfully depicts the concepts of alienation and exploitation.
Near the end of the film, Tom Joad gives a famous speech as he bids farewell to his mother.
I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.
This message inspired Bruce Springsteen to invoke the image of Tom Joad in a song about the struggle for social justice.
While Springsteen’s folk hymn provides a reflective tone, Rage Against The Machine reworked his song into a battle cry.
We often talk about the promptings of the “still small voice” when it comes to the Holy Ghost. I think the Holy Ghost of Tom Joad comes in many forms. Sometimes it is the reverent tones of Bruce Springsteen. Other times, it is the screams of RATM. Either way, let us follow those promptings by looking out for the hungry and the oppressed.
Author’s note: I originally wrote a version of this post back in 2010. This post is dedicated to Stephen George, a great teacher and Steinbeck scholar at BYU-Idaho. I co-taught an Ethics course with Stephen at BYU-I. It was the first class I taught in Rexburg. It was his last. His cancer had returned after going into remission. He passed away in November 2006.