33 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1936

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Article 1 Summary

Published on October 5, 1936, this is the first article that Steinbeck wrote about migrant farmworkers for the San Francisco News. He wrote that there were at least 150,000 migrants fueled by hunger and poverty traversing the state of California, making them “an army large enough to make it important to every person in the state” (19). He described their ramshackle camps by the sides of the highway, which frequently disappeared as the migrants moved around the state in search of work. Steinbeck noted that the migrants were in a unique position, as they were both needed to pluck the state’s crop—which quickly rotted if not plucked—and despised by native Californians, who believed that the migrants were a drain on local resources and carried disease.


Steinbeck stated that these itinerant farmworkers came to California from places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, and regions of Kansas and Texas. The migrants fled to California because the Dust Bowl had wreaked havoc on their small, family-owned farms back home, destroying their means of supporting themselves and their children. These largely white refugees of the Dust Bowl were different from the mostly foreign—Mexican and Asian—workers who farmed the fields prior to their arrival.