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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Introduction Summary

Charles Wollenberg writes that John Steinbeck dedicated his most famous work, The Grapes of Wrath, to his wife Carol and a man named “Tom.” “Tom” refers to Tom Collins, who managed a federal migrant labor camp in California’s Central Valley. Steinbeck had met Collins a few years earlier, in 1936, when Collins showed Steinbeck around the labor camps and introduced him to migrant farmworkers. Many of these farmworkers not only featured in the series of articles compiled as The Harvest Gypsies, but also inspired The Grapes of Wrath. Wollenberg delves into Steinbeck’s journey to becoming a writer and Collins’s do-gooder zeal, which left Collins “tired beyond sleepiness, the kind of tired that won’t let you sleep” (vii). Steinbeck had previously written a satirical novel on Mexican Americans called Tortilla Flat and a grimmer book on a California farmworkers’ strike entitled In Dubious Battle.


Steinbeck received an assignment from George West, an editor at The San Francisco News, to write about the farmworkers who migrated from the Midwest to California in search of work. The government’s Resettlement Administration had established camps for these migrant laborers. The agency assigned its staff member, Collins, to accompany Steinbeck.