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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Index of Terms


In the book’s introduction, Charles Wollenberg defines “bindlestiff” as white, “largely single, footloose men” who comprised the workforce on wheat farms in the 1870s and 1880s (xi). These men were precursors to the migrant labor economy that emerged in the early 20th century—first with immigrant laborers and later with the Okies from the Midwest and South.



When the migrant farmworkers sought refuge in California, they settled in ramshackle squatters’ settlements that were colloquially known as “Little Oklahomas” and “Hoovervilles.” “Hooverville” was a reference to President Herbert Hoover, whose presidency was tarnished by the onset of the Great Depression. Hoover became a US president only months before the stock market crash in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression in the 1930s. The Great Depression devastated the US economy and left millions of people without jobs. 

Dust Bowl

In the 1920s and 1930s, farmers in the Plains States of the Midwest and the South had over-tilled and over-farmed the land out of a demand to produce more crops to sell, and this practice eroded the top soil from the grasses below. When a severe drought hit the Great Plains area in the 1930s, the soil blew away, creating dust storms—better known as the “Dust Bowl”—and leaving the farmers without their lands or a source of income.