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Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad": Reinventing the American folk ballad

Abstract : Woody Guthrie's ballad "Tom Joad," recorded in 1940, was directly inspired by John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath and the successful John Ford film adaptation, released in 1940. The main focus of this article will be on the Guthrie ballad, with passing references to the Steinbeck novel and the John Ford film. We will also look at Tom Joad's legacy as reflected in the Springsteen song. In addition to painting a portrait of an American folk ballad, this research aims to shed light on several more general issues. "Tom Joad" provides a fascinating case study on the migration and transformations of a particular poetic form, the ballad, notably within the historical and social context of Depression-era America. It also exemplifies the subtle interplay between oral and written traditions along the folk--popular--highbrow cultural continuum. The tale of the Joad family raises questions regarding shifting national, regional, social, ethnic and linguistic identities as well. The song also illustrates intertextuality within and among three different semiotic systems (music, language and film) and lends itself to a comparative study of narration in these media. Finally, we may view "Tom Joad" as a national folk/literary hero contributing to the forging of an American mythology.
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Andy Arleo. Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad": Reinventing the American folk ballad. Andy Arleo, Paul Lees, Françoise Le Jeune and Bernard Sellin. Myths and Symbols of the Nation. Vol. 1: England, Scotland and the United States., CRINI, pp.163-183, 2006. ⟨halshs-00623908⟩