Great film. Let’s remember!
After Casy (John Carradine), a preacher is killed, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) now involved in the underground strike movement, decides to battle injustice and seek social reform. Wanted for killing a guard, Tom escapes one camp, but eventually must leave his Ma (Jane Darwell) and family behind. Before he goes, he speaks quietly with his mother:
Tom Joad: I been thinking about us too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…
Ma Joad: Oh, Tommy, they’d drag you out and cut you down just like they done to Casy.
Tom Joad: They’d drag me anyways. Sooner or later they’d get me for one thing if not for another. Until then…
Ma Joad: Tommy, you’re not aimin’ to kill nobody.
Tom Joad: No, Ma, not that. That ain’t it. It’s just, well as long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’ … maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.
Ma Joad: How am I gonna know about ya, Tommy? Why they could kill ya and I’d never know. They could hurt ya. How am I gonna know?
Tom Joad: Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…
Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?
Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. 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.
Its reference to the realities of police violence against farm workers, and, more importantly, its collective address, in part explain the film’s appeal to the farm worker movement.
As the film ends, we hear the words of Ma Joad summarize the state of the world:
“Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.”
The film has no Afro-Americans but it shows suffering of all small folks. “Grapes of Warth” gives hope to all oppressed people and calls to social justice. And it is still matters.