The Grapes of Wrath - Business Ethics and Corporate Social
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Its story of the Joad family being forced to migrate to California from
their farm in Oklahoma due to poverty, drought and eviction by their landlords during the Great Depression of
the 1930’s (as thousands of others did, settling in makeshift shanty towns called
Hoovervilles, named after the American president, Herbert Hoover).
Henry Fonda (also star of Twelve Angry
Men) who controversially didn’t get the Oscar for his great performance as Tom Joad. He finally
got it for On Golden Pond in 1981.
b) best supporting actress (Jane Darwell as Ma Joad).
Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), the hero (pictured right).
Ma Joad (Jane Darwell), his mother.
Jim Casy (John Carradine), his friend.
After four years’ imprisonment for manslaughter (killing someone in self-defence in a bar brawl), Tom
Joad returns to his family’s rented farm in Oklahoma with his friend, Jim
Casy (an ex-preacher).
But the family has been evicted and is now living at Uncle John’s farm nearby. They explain
that they’re going to California with all their possessions on an old truck. Tom's mother, Ma, has
to leave behind things that painfully remind her of happy memories.
Tom and Jim join Tom's family
Ma and Pa.
Grandpa and Grandma
Tom's brothers and sisters including pregnant, Rosasharn (or Rose of Sharon) with her
(from left to right Connie, Rosaharn, Jim and Tom are pictured right).
Heartbroken Grandpa and Grandma die on the journey, during which some people are kind but others privately
deride them as “Okies” who “ain’t human”.
They are concerned on meeting a man, returning from California, who tells them that migrant workers are being
poorly paid and badly treated. But they are heartened by a waitress who kindly gives some under-priced candy to
Winfield and Ruthie, Tom's youngest brother and sister.
When they arrive in California, they are told by a policeman there is no work, and they must go to the
It is full of starving, unemployed migrants, one of whom, Floyd:
accuses an employer of exploiting his low paid employees.
hits a policeman, who is arresting him on a false charge.
To help him escape, Tom and Jim (pictured right) stop and kick the policeman. Jim takes the blame
(because Tom is on parole) and is arrested.
Tom is angry about the migrants’ exploitation, but Ma tells him to stay out of trouble to keep the family
together. He consoles Rosasharn after her husband, Connie, deserts her.
The Joads then manage to escape from an angry mob of Californians, planning to burn down the camp because they
think the migrants are taking their jobs.
The Joads move to the Keene Fruit Ranch, where they are offered work as peach pickers to
break a strike organized by Jim who is attempting to create a union.
But Tom doesn’t encourage the other strike breaking pickers to join the strike. Jim is clubbed to
death by a guard whom Tom kills.
The strike is broken and the pickers’ wages are halved, as Jim predicted.
The Joads then move to a clean, well run government camp and are employed by a kind farmer, Mr.
Thomas. He warns Tom about a plot to cause trouble at the Saturday night camp dance to get “red”
(pro-union) agitators arrested. Tom helps to thwart this plan.
Ma (pictured right with Tom) wants to keep the family together but sadly accepts that Tom must leave to escape
He vows to carry on Jim’s work of organizing unions to help the poor.
Ma overcomes her misery with defiant optimism about the future (this contrasts with the
bleak ending in John Steinbeck’s novel in which Rosasharn breast feeds a starving man after the loss of her
Lessons for business ethics and corporate social
1. Profit can hurt people
The tenant farmers in Oklahoma (like the Joads) are evicted by their land owners, because it is more profitable
to have bigger farms with tractors.
In California there are some kind employers (like Mr. Thomas) but many of them exploit the
migrants with low wages. Jim and then Tom try to organize unions which are violently discouraged
(helped by the ruthless police).
2. Love everybody
Ex-preacher, Jim Casy (pictured right), says that his only religion is to “love everybody”.
Just like Jesus Christ (Jim is deliberately given the same initials), he sacrifices himself for others:
Floyd (the migrant worker).
Similar to Jesus’s words on the cross, Jim tells his killer:
“You don’t know what you’re doin’” .
3. Co-operation is cool
The migrants are strongest and happiest when they accept their interdependence and work together for a better
This is Jim’s philosophy and is repeated by Tom:
“A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little of a big soul – the one big soul that belongs to
Jim’s example inspires Tom to carry on his work of helping the poor. Jim says:
“All that lives is holy”,
5. People matter more than possessions
Ma (pictured right with Rosasharn and Tom) is more concerned about her family than the
possessions she has to leave behind in Oklahoma.
Tom and Jim also put people first.
The film shows how life's problems (like poverty and exploitation) can be conquered by:
ordinary people's spirit and resolve.
6. Make the most of the future
Ma wisely realizes that memories are magical, but you can’t live in the past.
Despite intense hostility to “Okies” like herself, she is:
resilient and optimistic.
determined to make the most of their new life in California.
7. Family matters
The Joad family (led by Ma) support each other through thick and thin.
At the end of the film, Ma says she will lead them out of their problems, because women are strong like a river
that “goes right on”.
(Ma and Pa are pictured right with Tom)
Key quotes on workers and unions
They’re workin’ away on our spirits, tryin’ to make us cringe and crawl, workin’ on our decency,
Tom (to Ma).
You don’t know what you’re doin’. You’re helping to starve kids, Jim (to his killer).
Key quotes on ethics
All that lives is holy, Jim.
You do what you had to do, Ma (to Tom).
Maybe there ain't no sin, and there ain't no virtue. There's just what people does, Jim.
Key quote on society
We’ll go on forever, Pa, ‘cause we’re the people, Ma’s final line in the film.
Key quote on learning
Tom, you gotta learn like I'm learnin'. I don't know what's right yet, myself, but
I'm tryin' to find out...I gotta ask, Jim.
Key quote on corporate social responsibility
A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little of a big soul – the one big soul that belongs to ever’body,