Throughout "The Grapes of Wrath", the Joad family repeatedly crosses the paths of families in need, and the Joads help them out nearly every time. For the Joads it's almost a requirement, an obligation to help those they can. Why do people help each other? Has this changed any since the 1930's?
There seems to be an inexhaustible number of reasons that one person might go out of his way to assist another. One of the more interesting of these is to give to soothe one's conscience, or to avoid the guilt that comes with not offering help when you can. Ma Joad used this reason to feed the starving children at the first Hooverville they stayed at. She looked at those kids and tried to avoid giving them food so she could feed her family. Even Uncle Tom had a hard time eating his food with those hungry children looking on. Ma eventually soothed her conscience by giving the kids the dregs of the soup kettle, though she knew she should have given the entire helping to her family, as they had less than enough themselves.
Uncle Tom's generosity stemmed from the part he played in his wife's death. He believed that he had done such a great misdeed that he needed to make up for it for the rest of his life by giving children and neighbors treats and gifts. This reason is building or balancing karma. Uncle Tom did his best to balance the large amount of bad karma accrued from the sins of his past, and his charity is the method by which he can accomplish this. Uncle Tom definitely would not have been so charitable if his great sins had not happened, or if he didn't believe in karma, or its spiritual equivalent.
Others look for more immediate results: A word of thanks, good impressions, or maintaining a good reputation. These generally give the charitable person satisfaction, and make them want to do charitable things more often in the future to duplicate that feeling of satisfaction. This is the often the reason behind the charity of...