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Henry Fonda as Tom Joad: 7 Quotes About Iconic Role

Image: Henry Fonda as Tom Joad: 7 Quotes About Iconic Role
Trailer for the 1940 black and white film The Grapes of Wrath. Henry Fonda. (wikimedia/commons)

By    |   Tuesday, 10 Mar 2015 09:41 PM

Henry Fonda, who was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, was a celebrated actor whose career spanned decades. One of the most iconic Henry Fonda roles was that of Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, the Depression-era movie takes viewers on a tragic yet compelling migration from Oklahoma to California.

Here are 10 quotes about Henry Fonda’s iconic role playing Tom Joad.

1. “It is dialogue spoken by Henry Fonda, whose Tom Joad is one of the great American movie characters, so pure and simple and simply therein the role that he puts it over. Fonda was an actor with the rare ability to exist on the screen without seeming to reach or try, and he makes it clear even in his silences how he has been pondering Preacher's conversion from religion to union politics. We're not surprised when he tells Ma, ‘Maybe it's like Casy says. A fella ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul. The one big soul that belongs to everybody.’ Just as, in the dream of One Big Union, transcendentalism meets Marxism.”
Film critic Roger Ebert

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2. “John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ also speaks urgently to today’s concerns: the cratered trail of dreams for Mexican immigrants seeking a promised land in the Western [United States]; the perfidy of banks in foreclosing on poor people’s homes; and the insurgent urge of the book’s protagonist, Tom Joad, to speak truth to police power. ‘Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy,’ Tom promises, ‘I’ll be there.’ In Salinas, Calif., Ferguson, Mo., or Staten Island, N.Y., Tom’s truth goes marching on.”
Richard Corliss, Time movie critic

3. "The Grapes of Wrath" novelist said Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad made him “believe my own words.”

4. “The most mature motion picture that has ever been made, in feeling, in purpose, and in the use of the medium.”
Otis Ferguson, critic and writer for The New Republic, Feb. 12, 1940

5. “Tom Joad walked down to the neighbor's farm, Found his family. They took Preacher Casey and loaded in a car, And his mother said, ‘We've got to get away.’ His mother said, ‘We've got to get away.’ "
– Woody Guthrie, from his song “Tom Joad”

6. “The highway is alive tonight, But nobody’s kidding nobody about where it goes, I’m sitting down here in the campfire light, With the ghost of old Tom Joad.”
– Bruce Springsteen, from his song “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

7. “Ford’s cameras turn off a white-striped highway, follow Tom Joad scuffling through the dust to the empty farmhouse, see through Muley's eyes the pain of surrendering the land and the hopelessness of trying to resist the tractors. A swift sequence or two, and all that Steinbeck said has been said and burned indelibly into memory by a director, a camera and a cast.”
Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times movie reviewer, Jan. 25, 1940

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Henry Fonda was a celebrated actor whose career spanned decades. One of his most iconic roles was that of Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, the Depression-era movie takes viewers on a tragic yet compelling migration from Oklahoma to California.
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