The Harvest Gypsies, by John Steinbeck

Powerful Essays
A major drought, over-cultivation, and a country suffering from one of the greatest depressions in history are all it took to displace hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners and send them, and everything they had, out west. The Dust Bowl ruined crops all across the Great Plains region, crops that people depended on for survival. When no food could be grown and no money could be made, entire families, sometimes up to 8 people or more, packed up everything they had and began the journey to California, where it was rumored that jobs were in full supply. Without even closing the door behind them in some cases, these families left farms that had been with them for generations, only to end up in a foreign place where they were neither welcomed nor needed in great quantity. This would cause immense problems for their futures. It is these problems that author John Steinbeck spent a great deal of his time studying and documenting so that Americans could better understand the plight of these migrant farmers, otherwise known as "Okies." From touring many of these "Hoovervilles" and "Little Oklahomas" (pg. v) Steinbeck was given a firsthand look at the issues and hardships these migrant workers faced on a daily basis. With the help of Tom Collins, manager of a federal migrant labor camp, Steinbeck began a "personal and literary journey" (pg. v), revealing to the world the painful truth of these "Okies" in his book Harvest Gypsies.

They arrived in beat-up, run down vehicles; after traveling thousands of miles into California, often losing children and older family members along the way (pg 22), they arrived with dreams of a brighter future, one with the hope of land for their own and jobs to support their loved ones. The scene they came up...

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...however, feels that to solve the plight of the Okies, land should be set aside for them to start their own small farms, since farming is all they know. He also suggests that local committees set wages and labor needs before the harvests to protect the rights of the workers and prevent them from being extorted (Pgs 58-59). While Steinbeck’s ideas made sense and had good intent, the grim reality still remained that the corporations controlled the agriculture industry and that they were going to save every nickel and dime they could, even if it meant a lower standard of living for the Okie. Today, we have unions that attempt to prevent things like this from happening again, but the plight of illegal immigrants demonstrates that the reality of this country’s need for cheap labor remains.

Work Cited

Steinbeck, John. The Harvest Gypsies, Heyday (July 1, 2002)
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