the Harvest


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Overview of The Harvest Gypsies: Steinbeck’s Reports from the Migrant Worker Fields

Photo journal layout included with 1936 publication of The Harvest Gypsies. Text along top reads "Their blood is strong."

The Harvest Gypsies (1936) is a collection of seven newspaper articles John Steinbeck was commissioned to write for the San Francisco News, which were published consecutively from October 5 to October 12, 1936. In 1938 the Simon J. Lubin Society published The Harvest Gypsies, with an added eighth chapter, in pamphlet form under the title, Their Blood is Strong.

Having gained some renown after the publication of his strike novel, In Dubious Battle (1936), the newspaper's editor, George West, thought Steinbeck would be a good choice to report on the growing problems associated with migrant labor in the agricultural valleys of California. West asked Steinbeck to report on the migrant situation, which led to series of articles in San Francisco News.

Hundreds of thousands of Dust Bowl migrants were pouring into California from the Central Plains during the 1930s seeking work and ending up greatly impoverished in makeshift, roadside camps known as Hoovervilles. Steinbeck traveled through the labor camps and fields with Tom Collins, staff member of the Federal Resettlement Administration, recording the terrible living conditions faced by the migrants. While touring the camps, he found once independent farmers and laborers demoralized and defeated by the poverty forced upon them by what he saw as the organized oppression of wealthy landowners. His articles record both his great indignation at the utter misery he witnessed and present possible solutions to the huge problem. Primarily he advocates the development of more Federal Camps where he argues self-government, small, family-run farms and decent living conditions would save lives and restore the migrants' dignity. Steinbeck's text is accompanied by twenty-two photographs by Dorothea Lange and others, several of which appeared with the original articles in the San Francisco News.

Besides being one of his earliest works of journalism, Steinbeck's experiences touring the migrant camps would lay the foundation for his most famous work, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Several of the people he met and events he witnessed make into the narrative in altered form. In addition to providing insight into the inspiration for one of the world's best-known novels, The Harvest Gypsies has sociologic relevance today as an historical document that provides a firsthand account of a never before seen experience in American history. Never had such a large group of Americans been displaced by natural disaster and faced such destitution and oppression. Steinbeck recounts with great indignation and sympathy the huge loss experienced by hundreds of thousands of Americans during the period.

The Harvest Gypsies was first published in 1936 by The San Francisco News.