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

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With the inquisitiveness of an investigative reporter and the emotional power of a novelist in his prime, Steinbeck toured the squatters' camps and Hoovervilles of California. Here he found once strong, independent farmers so reduced in dignity, sick, sullen, and defeated that they had been cast down to a kind of subhumanity. He contrasts their misery with the hope offered With the inquisitiveness of an investigative reporter and the emotional power of a novelist in his prime, Steinbeck toured the squatters' camps and Hoovervilles of California. Here he found once strong, independent farmers so reduced in dignity, sick, sullen, and defeated that they had been cast down to a kind of subhumanity. He contrasts their misery with the hope offered by government resettlement camps, where self-help communities were restoring dignity and indeed saving lives. The Harvest Gypsies gives us an eyewitness account of the horrendous Dust Bowl migration and provides the factual foundation for Steinbeck's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. Included are twenty-two photographs by Dorothea Lange and others, many of which accompanied Steinbeck's original articles.


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With the inquisitiveness of an investigative reporter and the emotional power of a novelist in his prime, Steinbeck toured the squatters' camps and Hoovervilles of California. Here he found once strong, independent farmers so reduced in dignity, sick, sullen, and defeated that they had been cast down to a kind of subhumanity. He contrasts their misery with the hope offered With the inquisitiveness of an investigative reporter and the emotional power of a novelist in his prime, Steinbeck toured the squatters' camps and Hoovervilles of California. Here he found once strong, independent farmers so reduced in dignity, sick, sullen, and defeated that they had been cast down to a kind of subhumanity. He contrasts their misery with the hope offered by government resettlement camps, where self-help communities were restoring dignity and indeed saving lives. The Harvest Gypsies gives us an eyewitness account of the horrendous Dust Bowl migration and provides the factual foundation for Steinbeck's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. Included are twenty-two photographs by Dorothea Lange and others, many of which accompanied Steinbeck's original articles.

30 review for The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to The Grapes of Wrath

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    In 1936 the San Francisco News commissioned John Steinbeck, who was just starting to achieve recognition as a novelist, to write a series of articles about conditions for migrant farm workers in the Salinas Valley. The seven articles were originally published between October 5 and October 12, 1936. In 1938 Steinbeck allowed the Simon J. Lubin Society to re-publish the articles with an additional eighth chapter in a pamphlet entitled Their Blood is Strong. The articles are of inherent interest, b In 1936 the San Francisco News commissioned John Steinbeck, who was just starting to achieve recognition as a novelist, to write a series of articles about conditions for migrant farm workers in the Salinas Valley. The seven articles were originally published between October 5 and October 12, 1936. In 1938 Steinbeck allowed the Simon J. Lubin Society to re-publish the articles with an additional eighth chapter in a pamphlet entitled Their Blood is Strong. The articles are of inherent interest, because Steinbeck was an excellent journalist. But they're particularly important because they led Steinbeck to write The Grapes of Wrath. If you're familiar with the novel, you'll immediately recognise the source of its inspiration in these articles. For the committed Steinbeck fan, they're a must-read: powerful, moving, accessible, like all of Steinbeck's prose.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ian D

    A series of articles commissioned by the The San Francisco News on the lives of said harvest nomads in the Californian Valley. An interesting sociological approach to the migrant workers' daily routines during the Great Depression, to be held as a companion book to Steinbeck's greater works (namely, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath) rather than a stand-alone read. This Italian edition is enriched by the beautiful work of non-other than Dorothea Lange. If the name rings no bells to you, sh A series of articles commissioned by the The San Francisco News on the lives of said harvest nomads in the Californian Valley. An interesting sociological approach to the migrant workers' daily routines during the Great Depression, to be held as a companion book to Steinbeck's greater works (namely, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath) rather than a stand-alone read. This Italian edition is enriched by the beautiful work of non-other than Dorothea Lange. If the name rings no bells to you, she's the documentary photographer responsible for some of Steinbeck's most iconic book covers, among others.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gary the Bookworm

    The Harvest Gypsies, a thin volume of advocacy journalism, combines the prose of John Steinbeck, the newspaper man, with the haunting realism of Dorothea's Lange's photojournalism. Their shared subject is the wave of migrant workers who flooded California during the mid-1930's from the Dust Bowl states. Steinbeck went on to write The Grapes of Wrath, citing these articles as his inspiration; Dorothea Lange's famous photo, Migrant Mother, became the defining image of dignity under duress during t The Harvest Gypsies, a thin volume of advocacy journalism, combines the prose of John Steinbeck, the newspaper man, with the haunting realism of Dorothea's Lange's photojournalism. Their shared subject is the wave of migrant workers who flooded California during the mid-1930's from the Dust Bowl states. Steinbeck went on to write The Grapes of Wrath, citing these articles as his inspiration; Dorothea Lange's famous photo, Migrant Mother, became the defining image of dignity under duress during the Great Depression. Steinbeck's style of writing in these articles lacks the poetry he achieves in his fiction, but his message of condemnation for the status quo is unequivocal. He depicts and deplores the exploitation of farm workers practiced throughout California - providing historical and socioeconomic context - and argues for federal intervention to protect the workers and preserve democratic principles. It is a wonderful companion piece to both The Grapes of Wrath and Mary Coin, a fictionalized version of Lange's life and work.

  4. 5 out of 5

    dianne

    A collection of beautifully written essays Steinbeck wrote as a journalist in 1936 about the plight of farmworkers in California during the awful years of the Dustbowl migration. He writes from what seems now to be a naive sort of moral outrage - using words that have since been stolen by The Power that Be. He refers to the violence and cruelty perpetrated by Big Farms appropriately as “terrorism”. He refers to them as fascists. In 2016 brutal Big Farms would be called “job creators” and the star A collection of beautifully written essays Steinbeck wrote as a journalist in 1936 about the plight of farmworkers in California during the awful years of the Dustbowl migration. He writes from what seems now to be a naive sort of moral outrage - using words that have since been stolen by The Power that Be. He refers to the violence and cruelty perpetrated by Big Farms appropriately as “terrorism”. He refers to them as fascists. In 2016 brutal Big Farms would be called “job creators” and the starved, attempting to organize workers would be labelled “terrorists”, methinks. There is a review of the various outlanders who are brought in as peon labor - Chinese, then Japanese, then Mexicans, then Filipinos - but separates them, in their living standards, what should be afforded them, and certainly their futures - from white “Americans”. He seems to think that all people of color will be returning to their places of familial origin and that only the whites will remain. And so he believes that future migrant workers will be white. “To attempt to force them into a peonage of starvation and intimidated despair will be unsuccessful.” He believed that the terror brought down on every group that attempted to organize, by the fascist vigilantes would be the end of agriculture in California - because the workers will be white (i.e. “American”) and won’t stand for it. “The old methods of repression, of starvation wages, of jailing, beating and intimidation are not going to work; these are American people”. As opposed to the groups of color that preceded the Dustbowl migrants. Now, as we have 80 years of hindsight - he is sort of right. Except the migrant workers aren’t white, or allowed to become “American”, and so have been living in various degrees of pain, hunger and despair under the “old methods” that continued. The simple asks - decent places to live, clean water, breaks in the work day, reasonable pay, access to safe and clean toilets, ability to organize, education for children, protection from abuse - that Steinbeck wanted for his Okies - were the same simple demands I learned about 40 years ago from a tiny, powerful Mexican who was speaking to us - a group of 20 or 30 people in Fullerton, interested in what Cesar Chavez had to say. Finally - 40 years after The Grapes of Wrath - the novel that grew from these essays - a leader emerged that could successfully organize the United Farm Workers into a union with bite, and initiate the grape boycott that changed California. Steinbeck's descriptions of the hopelessness of the migrants’ lives, the death of children, the inevitable fall into misery and depression, accompanied by photographs by Dorothea Lange create an important bit of history, with lots of lessons yet to be learned.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    I read The Grapes of Wrath about 40 years ago, and I remember the John Ford movie much better than I remember the book. The sketches in these seven articles are harrowing, more so than anything I remember from the book. Basically, this small series of articles carries all the political weight of the novel in about 1/20th the space, and even as short as they are, these articles are still redundant. But they are powerfully written. I was especially impressed at his sketch of three families in thre I read The Grapes of Wrath about 40 years ago, and I remember the John Ford movie much better than I remember the book. The sketches in these seven articles are harrowing, more so than anything I remember from the book. Basically, this small series of articles carries all the political weight of the novel in about 1/20th the space, and even as short as they are, these articles are still redundant. But they are powerfully written. I was especially impressed at his sketch of three families in three different levels of despair, from determined, to cursed, to hopeless. The other thing I found striking here is the number of times Steinbeck made reference to women who were unable to feed their newborns, because they did not have the nutrition to make milk. This didn't square well with my recollection of the ending of the book, with Rose o'Sharon (no idea how to spell that). And, to some extent at least, it confirms my suspicion that the novel was not quite as brutal as the picture painted by these articles. I liked these articles, but I had hoped they might inspire me to re-read the book. But I'm just not feeling it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Austin Wright

    THIS BOOK NEEDS TO BE ANNEXED INTO MODERN EDITIONS OF "GRAPES OF WRATH"!!!! These are basically the scientific notes by Steinbeck which allowed him to write Wrath in the detail he did. Did you know that California orchards can sustain themselves in the off-season with just 20 employees, but when the window for picking and canning comes, the orchard needs 2,000 employees?!?! This creates an absolute we-need-migrants/we-hate-migrants mentality. FIVE-STARS! RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE! THIS BOOK NEEDS TO BE ANNEXED INTO MODERN EDITIONS OF "GRAPES OF WRATH"!!!! These are basically the scientific notes by Steinbeck which allowed him to write Wrath in the detail he did. Did you know that California orchards can sustain themselves in the off-season with just 20 employees, but when the window for picking and canning comes, the orchard needs 2,000 employees?!?! This creates an absolute we-need-migrants/we-hate-migrants mentality. FIVE-STARS! RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE!

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    The series of newspaper articles Steinbeck wrote depicting the hardships of the "okies" who traveled to California to work as migrant laborers after the dust bowl. Served as inspiration and background research for The Grapes of Wrath. Depressing--in comparison The Grapes of Wrath is upbeat. The series of newspaper articles Steinbeck wrote depicting the hardships of the "okies" who traveled to California to work as migrant laborers after the dust bowl. Served as inspiration and background research for The Grapes of Wrath. Depressing--in comparison The Grapes of Wrath is upbeat.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chris Blocker

    In 1936, John Steinbeck toured the migrant camps and government camps of California. He wrote seven articles about the plight of the migrant workers that were published in The San Francisco News. The Harvest Gypsies is the compilation of those articles. Having read The Grapes of Wrath there's not much to say about The Harvest Gypsies. It's clear Steinbeck was greatly moved by his experience in 1936, and it was this series of encounters that was the catalyst for his 1938 Pulitzer-winning novel. El In 1936, John Steinbeck toured the migrant camps and government camps of California. He wrote seven articles about the plight of the migrant workers that were published in The San Francisco News. The Harvest Gypsies is the compilation of those articles. Having read The Grapes of Wrath there's not much to say about The Harvest Gypsies. It's clear Steinbeck was greatly moved by his experience in 1936, and it was this series of encounters that was the catalyst for his 1938 Pulitzer-winning novel. Elements of many of the stories Steinbeck tells in The Grapes of Wrath are first seen here. Told in a concise, largely journalistic voice, The Harvest Gypsies doesn't leave too much room for the Steinbeck we love, but he does make brief appearances. The Harvest Gypsies is a very thin book primarily for Steinbeck fans. It also serves as a great companion to The Grapes of Wrath. It's not one I'd recommend to readers who have not read and loved The Grapes of Wrath.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    The Seven articles written by Steinbeck published in the San Francisco News in the 30s read like radio or documentary narration.. as we pan over a scene of utter hopelessness. They are news articles though, so while Steinbeck does seem to tell it like it is in horrible detail, there's not much one can do but wonder how we got through this decade. The book is yet another reminder that even in California, things aren't always as 'golden' and perfect as its reputation is believed the world over (fa The Seven articles written by Steinbeck published in the San Francisco News in the 30s read like radio or documentary narration.. as we pan over a scene of utter hopelessness. They are news articles though, so while Steinbeck does seem to tell it like it is in horrible detail, there's not much one can do but wonder how we got through this decade. The book is yet another reminder that even in California, things aren't always as 'golden' and perfect as its reputation is believed the world over (falsely or not.) One of the things I'm coming to terms with personally as I learn new things about my adopted state is that in a throw away world, California is a leader in creating throw away people.. using, used and useless.. In hindsight it is temporarily warming to know things get better for everyone eventually, for a time.. but these things do keep happening because we're not willing to learn from our predecessors and make life better for each other while we're harvesting all that money in fields or financial districts.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wei Cho

    Powerful portrayal of California during the Great Depression, especially in the Central Valley where agricultural conditions where deplorable. Steinbeck focused more on the "okies" or the people who migrated to California from the Midwest because of the Dust bowl and mentions imported hands from Asia and Latin America. This book will make your blood boil because of so much injustice and you would end up thinking if those huge agribusiness tycoons are human beings at all! It is such a sad story an Powerful portrayal of California during the Great Depression, especially in the Central Valley where agricultural conditions where deplorable. Steinbeck focused more on the "okies" or the people who migrated to California from the Midwest because of the Dust bowl and mentions imported hands from Asia and Latin America. This book will make your blood boil because of so much injustice and you would end up thinking if those huge agribusiness tycoons are human beings at all! It is such a sad story and so many things that they went through. Many times we don't think of the people who help bring food to our table, the growers, and not the people who own the land but the people who actually work on it. California is not a land for small farmers but huge mega corporations.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jodi

    A series of investigative newspaper articles Steinbeck had published in 1936 describing the conditions faced by those displaced by the Dust Bowl and living California. The last article in the series is Steinbeck's view on what should be done to ameliorate the conditions of those living under the tyranny of large farms and communities unwilling to recognize them as humans. I respect and greatly admire Steinbeck in that he not only describes the problems faced by those living as migrants in Califo A series of investigative newspaper articles Steinbeck had published in 1936 describing the conditions faced by those displaced by the Dust Bowl and living California. The last article in the series is Steinbeck's view on what should be done to ameliorate the conditions of those living under the tyranny of large farms and communities unwilling to recognize them as humans. I respect and greatly admire Steinbeck in that he not only describes the problems faced by those living as migrants in California but he also offers a solution. Grapes of Wrath furthered Americans' awareness of the problem. Steinbeck's work in bringing awareness to the situation with insightful, concise and incredible writing makes him a true American hero.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Buck

    The Harvest Gypsies is a series of seven newspaper articles published in 1936 chronicling the plight of migrant farm workers in California. These are more than just news articles, they are advocacy pieces. The seeds of Steinbeck's later work The Grapes of Wrath are clear. My edition included an informative introduction by Charles Wollenberg and photographs by Dorothea Lange and others, dated mostly from the years immediately after the articles were published The Harvest Gypsies is a series of seven newspaper articles published in 1936 chronicling the plight of migrant farm workers in California. These are more than just news articles, they are advocacy pieces. The seeds of Steinbeck's later work The Grapes of Wrath are clear. My edition included an informative introduction by Charles Wollenberg and photographs by Dorothea Lange and others, dated mostly from the years immediately after the articles were published

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Fascinating, powerful and horrifying, written in an objective style yet still allowing Steinbeck's disgust and shame at the way his native California was treating migrant workers to come through. The photographs say almost as much as the text (which only runs to some 44 pages). Well worth a read. Fascinating, powerful and horrifying, written in an objective style yet still allowing Steinbeck's disgust and shame at the way his native California was treating migrant workers to come through. The photographs say almost as much as the text (which only runs to some 44 pages). Well worth a read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    In the late 1930's, John Steinbeck wrote a series of articles about the migrant farm workers in California most of whom had fled the mid-western dust bowl. It's a revealing look at their lives and how they are treated by various groups along the way. While most of the essays don't reveal anything that we don't already know about these people during the Great Depression, I'm sure they were real eye openers to many Americans who were not aware of this situation. Steinbeck writes with emotion and c In the late 1930's, John Steinbeck wrote a series of articles about the migrant farm workers in California most of whom had fled the mid-western dust bowl. It's a revealing look at their lives and how they are treated by various groups along the way. While most of the essays don't reveal anything that we don't already know about these people during the Great Depression, I'm sure they were real eye openers to many Americans who were not aware of this situation. Steinbeck writes with emotion and compassion that at times borders on pleading for someone to do something. This short volume is augmented by a section of photos many of which are by the great Dorothea Lange.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey S.

    A very short read. This collection of journalism articles on the migrant workers in California in the 1930s formed the research for the Grapes of Wrath. Written between the publication of In Dubious Battle and The Grapes of Wrath it shows how Steinbeck links social issues with literary interests and human emphasis. The pictures of the migrant camps are very moving. It is a shame that 80 years later the same problems in our society still exist.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth Dudziak

    I read this for my California History class this semester and it was by far my favorite book that we read. I’ve never been drawn to Steinbeck’s books before, but this essay (I think that is what this would be) really made me want to read the grapes of wrath. Honestly that’s pretty high on my TBR now, and I’m actually excited about it! This short book made me interested in the time period and enlightened me on many topics that I wasn’t super aware of. Loved it!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marie S.

    People who read Of Mice and Men and decide Steinbeck is not for them should give a try to his journalistic pieces. These articles were really outstanding, in a short time Steinbeck explains and gives solutions to a complex problem. Moreover, he paints such a vivid picture that you want to go and help in those camps.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

    I read this after The Grapes of Wrath, but it can be read either before or after for valuable insight into actual conditions upon which the novel is based. While the Joad family is fictional, the plight they and many other families was in, was very real. Interesting contrast between the need the crop producers had for the migrant work force, but the deplorable way they treated them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ashleigh

    Book was great, I learned more about the migrant farmers than most books about The Great Depression usually cover. I wish it was longer, but I'm glad Steinbeck published his field notes. If following the history of migrant labor or the reading up on the humanitarian crises migrants have in our country is of interest, I recommend watching The Harvest of Shame (1960) after reading this book. Book was great, I learned more about the migrant farmers than most books about The Great Depression usually cover. I wish it was longer, but I'm glad Steinbeck published his field notes. If following the history of migrant labor or the reading up on the humanitarian crises migrants have in our country is of interest, I recommend watching The Harvest of Shame (1960) after reading this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    I have never read Grapes of Wrath, so this was very enlightening as to the conditions of the dustbowl migrant farm workers. I am ashamed at how these and the foreign workers have been treated. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Not quite the Steinbeck I super enjoy but this is very enlightening to read both for the background of GoW, but just American history in general. It paints a picture of the real life trials and tribulations of the migrant farmers portrayed in his masterpiece.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Stewart

    In 1936, John Steinbeck wrote Harvest Gypsies that chronicle once strong, independent farmers reduced to the lowest form of poverty. Steinbeck toured squatter camps in California to serve his ambition to write a masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Great insight into the human condition and why there are imbeciles like the current fool sitting in the White House (or out on some damn golf course).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Delcy

    Read it because it was added to the ninth grade non-fiction list where I teach. I think it will encourage students to read Grapes of Wrath which is on the eleventh grade list.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marsha

    Interesting research of what was really happening during the migration to California from Oklahoma. Steinbeck did and incredible job of weaving them into The Grapes of Wrath.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Searing in its examination of how American labor is exploited.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Maregente

    One of the most insightful, and also saddest, books about migrant labor conditions and experiences in the United States.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Harvey Smith

    Excellent background to his book, The grapes of wrath

  29. 5 out of 5

    Galicius

    The reviewers on thise pages have got it mostly all there is to say about these sad stories.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sheri-lee

    Just 2 as I don't think it adds much to the narrative. Just 2 as I don't think it adds much to the narrative.

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