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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essays.

The Okies

1) Who were these people?
Danielle Albergo, "The Birth of a Migration"

2) Where did they go?
Kiera Berkemeyer, "California’s Role in the Dust Bowl Migration"

3) What was their life like?
Lauren Hochman, "Steinbeck’s 'Real' View of the Okies"

4) Why did they meet hostility?
Mercy Du, "Migration Anxiety"

5) How did they cope?
Heather Camperson, "Isolation -- Assimilation -- Resistance"

6) What should be done to help them?
Jillian Sloand, "Carey McWilliams’ Solution to the Migrant Problem"


1) Danielle Albergo, "The Birth of a Migration"

[1] During the 1930s, when the United States economy was at its worst and weather conditions in the Southwest were not much better, a mass exodus, an Okie migration, came about. Who exactly were the Okies? Where did they come from? Why did they migrate? The term “Okie” exploded during this time period.

[2] In order to understand the definition of an Okie, it’s important to identify who they were. There were two types of Dust Bowl migrants during the 20th century. From the 1910s-1920s, or the initial migration period, the majority of migrants were well off, opportunity seekers. The California hype attracted these Okies to the area. During the middle period, or 1930s, the Okie were desperately poor. These migrants did not leave their homes because of California hype. Instead, they were forced to leave their homes due to desperate conditions.

[3] Although the two sub-groups of the Okies had different motives for leaving, their characteristics were quite similar. Ninety-five percent of these Southwestern migrants were white, the other five were African-American. At this time, many African Americans were headed north to the cities as an effect of World War I. The common age for Okies was young; twenties and early thirties were the most popular ages. Unlike the family displayed in the movie Grapes of Wrath, most families that traveled Route 66 averaged 4.4 members per household. The extended family was atypical.

[4] The occupations previously held by the Dust Bowlers varied greatly. Surprisingly, farmers did not represent the majority of the migrants. The middle class group of Okies consisted of professionals, proprietors, and white collar employees who had departed from cities, towns, and regions, unlike the stereotypical farmers who had departed from the countryside.

[5] Where exactly did the Okies migrate from? Despite the term, these migrants were not merely from Oklahoma. Their core states of origin were Oklahoma (referred to as the Southwest and Midwest), Texas (the Southwest and South), Arkansas (South), and Missouri (South and Midwest). Although the Dust Bowlers came from a multitude of land regions, as a whole, they were considered to originate from the Western South, or Southwest. Texas and Arkansas made up a smaller portion of the migrants, while Missouri was responsible for the majority. Similar to the way Okies were stereotyped as members of the Southwest, they were associated with the term Southerners.

[6] Interestingly enough, the Wheatbelt or Dust Bowl parts of Oklahoma as well as the Corn-belt of Missouri only made up six percent of California migrants. Migrants were mainly from the North Texas Cotton-belt. The farm families, known for being chronically poor, were primarily from the Ozark mountain area of Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri.

[7] There were many motives for the mass exodus of the Southwesterners. The three main reasons for this migration dealt with economics, environmental issues, and attractiveness. Although many believed the reason for the Okie migration was the dust storms, that was inaccurate. Reporters confused drought with dust and made the assumption that dust lead to the exodus. However, it was the decade-long drought that caused the Dust Bowlers to leave their homes.

[8] Economically, the Dust Bowl stage occurred at a very unstable time. The Great Depression started off the majority of financial problems. With prices of such crops as wheat, corn, and cotton declining, the market dropped. Farmers were forced to mortgage their land. In fact, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) encouraged farmers to take their land out of production by offering cash subsidies. This act dramatically reduced the cotton empire. Depression wasn’t the only factor that lost farmers their jobs. Improvement in technology affected these men as well. New farm machinery was successfully able to complete elongated tasks much quicker than men. The tractor, for example, replaced horses and dramatically reduced the labor requirements of farms. With such horrible economic turmoil, the decision for Okies to start their lives over in a “land of promise” was ideal.

[9] Environmental issues were also factors pushing the Okies to move out. The obvious explanation for this mass exodus would be drought. Farmers lost hope of successfully growing harvest because of the lack of rain over an extended period of time. Droughts lead to mineral depletion and erosion of marginal soils. Without fertile land, it was merely impossible for farmers to work their land. In desperation, these Okies decided to pack up their belongings and embark on an arduous journey further west to California.

[10] The final factor that attributed to the Dust Bowler migrations was California’s attractiveness to the middle class. As mentioned earlier, California hype was able to lure in well-off migrants. The media’s image of this state was accredited for the lure. Historically, the west was perceived as opportunity-filled. Because the Gold Rush created success stories for many back in the day, other migrants wished for similar occurrences. California was seen by numerous migrants as “the land of the new beginnings.” Many believed opportunities here would lead to a “fresh, new start” into the “good life.” Because of this perception, the media blew California’s success out of proportion. Songs written at this time cried that “work [was] easy found” and that plentiful crops allowed families to “eat and eat till [they were] full!” However, in reality, an abundance of work and food was not always found. Another way the media affected the Okie migration was through tourist advertisements. In order to attract tourists, marketers directed the publics’ attention towards California’s charm. Their advertisement mainly focused on sunny climate, majestic landscapes, and, of course, Hollywood. Hollywood was associated with glamor, money, and success. By creating ads that appealed to the masses, Okies saw California as Heaven on Earth. The Okie migration did not take off because of the common misconception that the dust storms were the causation. Their migration occurred for a multitude of reasons.

[11] Although the less-fortunate Okies may have been looked down upon by the upper-class, they are to be commended for having the ability to abruptly leave their hometowns for the unknown. The Dust Bowlers showed an almost fearless attitude when they were faced with hardship.

2) Kiera Berkemeyer, "California’s Role in the Dust Bowl Migration"

[1] It is a mistake to look at history solely in terms of people. People do not just relate to one another, but they also relate to their surroundings, to the land they inhabit. In this respect, the land, with both its physical and cultural aspects, plays a role in defining what we call history. This give-and-take relationship between the land and culture is especially apparent as it applies to the 1930s Dust Bowl migration.

[2] James N. Gregory in the second chapter of his American Exodus does a spectacular job of describing the state of California during the 1930s and how the characteristics of this state led to the plight of the migrants. Gregory pulls from a variety of sources to compile a realistic history of the Dust Bowl migration. Unlike John Steinbeck in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, Gregory seeks to reveal the entire spectrum of history surrounding the Dust Bowl, not just the worst-case scenario. He acknowledges that many of the migrants were, as Steinbeck implied, very uncomfortable and living in horrible conditions; however, the tone of Gregory’s book has a certain optimism that shouldn’t be overlooked. Gregory’s chapter “The Limits of Opportunity” reveals the truth about the Dust Bowl migration in a way that suggests an idealistic contentment among many of the migrants.

[3] Gregory’s second chapter opens with a lengthy description of California, which he immediately sees as a “puzzle” (36). In this puzzle there are two main or defining pieces (the edge pieces, so to speak). These are two of California’s major cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Gregory categorizes San Francisco as the “old commercial capital” (36). It was the hub of the beginning days of California and thus carries much of the history and tradition often associated with early California. With its “Victorian buildings . . . [and] white gloves and blue collars, old wealth and tough labor unions,” Gregory suggests that San Francisco was “a city whose proudest days were now behind it” (36). Los Angeles is entirely different. It is a city whose foundation was built on “unreflective modernism” (36). Rather than the traditional approach of San Francisco, Los Angeles is constantly looking to the future. Such is evident through the rise of skyscrapers, film, and population. The mix of these two cities creates an interesting contrast between old and new, which helps to establish the Californian way of life.

[4] Additional pieces to the puzzle are the geographical regions of California. These are the literal pieces of California and the inside pieces of the puzzle as they apply to the metaphor. Gregory describes California in three main chunks. First are the northern regions with “an economy based on lumber, mining, and . . . dam building” (36-37). Second are the southern, desert regions affiliated with a sense of isolation and a strong Native American population. Third, and finally, are the valleys. These comprise the agricultural center of California: the primary region associated with the Dust Bowl migration.

[5] In addition to these pieces it is important to note that the people themselves make up a significant part of what make California, California. Gregory compares the population of California to that of the nation as a whole. The fact that two-thirds of the population come from other states, and in some cases other countries, is testament to the truly “melting pot” atmosphere of the Golden State.

[6] All of these “pieces” fit together to initiate what Gregory calls the three “historically consistent perspectives” of California (38). Gregory suggests that California harbors a “spirit of optimism.” This, in essence, is the “California Dream” that began with the Gold Rush and now allows California to be considered a “lucky place” (38). Secondly, he classifies California as a “permanent frontier” (38). As a result of the constant influx of people in the cities (such as Los Angeles), as well as the diversity of those people who choose to make California their home, there is a general “posture of openness towards newcomers” (38). This is a characteristic that was greatly tested during the 1930s. Finally, Gregory acknowledges California’s “commitment to progress and sophistication” (39). As is apparent through Hollywood, fashion, architecture, and invention, California is continually embracing the “new.” Gregory explains this phenomenon by stating: “In the absence of a shared past, they [meaning the Californians] embraced the future” (39). Yet, while the future is always their goal, Californians retain much of the San Franciscan ideology of sophistication and practicality. Later on Gregory uses this mindset as a sort of justification for the poor treatment of the migrants. Perhaps the Californians had the heart to be welcoming to the migrants, but their need for efficiency and modernism ultimately overcame their compassion.

[7] Towards the middle of this chapter, Gregory suggests that there were actually two “migrant streams.” The first was to the city. A little over half of the migrants made their way to Los Angeles or San Diego during the 1930’s. This is a fact that Steinbeck completely disregards and as a result makes the migration sound harsher than it really was, because in the cities, Gregory points out, migrants had an easier time finding jobs and assimilating into the culture. The city made it possible to disperse and then be absorbed, while the path to the second stream (the San Joaquin Valley) led ultimately to congregation and segregation. It is in the San Joaquin Valley that Steinbeck’s Joad family went through their struggles.

[8] The Central Valley, comprised of both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, stretches 450 miles down the middle of California. Originally this area was all grassland. However, in 1870 when the railroad began to work its way down the valley and large parcels of land were sold, the people inhabiting the area decided that agriculture was to be their way of life. This lifestyle would have been completely unreasonable if it weren’t for the large canal projects that began shortly thereafter. These canals, supplied by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, represent a major example of California’s third perspective. They were California’s way of harnessing nature in an efficient, practical way. Furthermore, the giant undertaking used the resources of large companies and government programs, which left an unmistakable corporate “imprint” on the land. This “imprint” is evident through the “vast, orderly . . . perfect rows that gave the appearance, historian Ernesto Galarza later noted, ‘of being laid out with dividers and a carpenter’s square’” (53). In fact, others went so far as to call the farms “factories in the field” (54). Migrants from the southwest were not expecting such mechanic farms. They came from family farms where owners had a bond with their land. And so, from the onset, farming in California proved to be an unfamiliar experience to say the least.

[9] One aspect of California farming that Steinbeck paid specific attention to was the nomadic lifestyle that it cultivated. Gregory points out that part of the mechanical aspect of the farms was that they were seasonal. In some cases this forced migrants to go from farm to farm according to the season. However, in contrast to Steinbeck’s migrant portrayal, Gregory states that the majority of the migrants chose to stay in one place, even if that meant being out of work some parts of the year. Many families made a compromise, staying in one place during the school year and then going elsewhere in the summer.

[10] Regardless of their location one thing was certain about the migrants: their social status. They were “a class apart, the mostly invisible underside of generally prosperous rural California” (58). Most of these people made around $658 a year (a median value), while the national average was around $2,000 a year. So it is evident that many of them were struggling. However, as Gregory points out, they were not without aid. Two-thirds of the migrant population received some kind of government aid and others lived in farm labor camps set up by The Farm Security Administration.

[11] If receiving California tax dollars wasn’t enough to get them patronized, then the massive squatter camps were. These make-shift towns known as “Little Oklahomas” or “Okievilles” were ravaged with poor living conditions. Migrants lived in tents, cars, shacks, or cabins with bad, and sometimes no, bathroom facilities, which led to the easy spread of disease. While Steinbeck stressed both the government camps and the “Okievilles” in his novel, he did not at all mention those which were, at least somewhat, successful. Gregory pays specific attention to families who bought a small piece of land “for as little as $5 to $10” and thus proceeded to build small cabins and sometimes even towns. In addition to this, Gregory’s optimism extends further as he recounts stories that he collected from people who lived in the dumpiest of slums. Marvin Montgomery, “camped illegally in a field near Wasco, living in conditions he described as fit only for ‘dogs and pigs,’[was] another migrant [who] similarly maintained that his family was better off in California” (76). This spirit of optimism, during the harshest of times, proves the influence that the land of California had on its people. Even after being subjected to ridicule and adversity, the migrants maintained the perspectives of California and continued to seek out the California Dream.

Lauren Hochman, "Steinbeck’s 'Real' View of the Okies"

[1] John Steinbeck’s non-fiction pamphlet Their Blood is Strong (1936/1938) aims to draw attention to the plight of the migrant workers in California. His warm vision of the Okies in comparison to the public opinion of them serves to tug on emotions in preparation for his well-conceived and seemingly logical solutions to the Okie problem. Steinbeck successfully conveys his research and the validity of his solutions through the discussion of three financially motivated arguments in opposition to solving the migration crisis, overcrowding, and disease-stricken labor farms of California. Critics argue that governmental housing for the migrants should not be expanded because of the increased cost of locally paid police and school districts near the sites of expansion, as well as causing lower land values and creating a breeding ground for strikes. In lieu of these arguments, Steinbeck proposes to establish a state migratory labor board in California to organize the migration of workers during the necessary harvesting periods and expand governmental housing. In this essay, I intend to argue against Steinbeck’s artful writing and technique of leaving out important details, because it creates the effect of total agreement among readers, leaving them with an incomplete knowledge.

[2] Steinbeck exercises caution through careful and deeply detailed observations of the scene. He reports that the migrant problem involving over 250,000 homeless migrants in California as of the spring of 1938 is a social and economic issue that not only affects California but the entire United States of America (preface). As this situation affects all Americans, or so Steinbeck claims, he shrewdly introduces the reader to the typical “Okie,” a simple farmer whose roots trace back to methods involving small, “self-containing farms” (4). On such farms, one farmer is involved in every step of the farming process from planting to harvesting. Now, with newer, more industrialized methods of farming, more food beckons from each harvest. However, the sheer magnitude of the crops requires numerous hands to coordinate the process. The apple that was once touched by a single set of hands may now be touched by tens of hands from seedling to mature fruit. Because of these new, more industrialized methods of farming, the short window of harvest must be met with hundreds of hands or else time will elapse and the harvest will be lost. These methods seem stranger to the newly occupied migrant workers, who not long ago were upstanding citizens, landowners, and proud supporters of their country. Steinbeck draws much attention to the defeated spirits of these dust bowl migrants, essentially attaching the term “victim” to each of them, stating that they are “needed and hated” (1).

[3] California cannot survive without the hands of the migrant workers. Yet, the state and its people continually bite the hands that nourish them. It is no secret that too many farmers have fled to the gold coast in search of work and a better tomorrow. But how did the workers come to consider California as the new frontier? Steinbeck reconciles this question by pinpointing “the habit of the grower’s associations of the state to provide by importation, twice as much labor as was necessary, so that wages might remain low” (4). The short supply of jobs and the massive demand to work remains the fault of the grower’s association for unlawful practices, or so it seems to be the claim made by Steinbeck. His heart-wrenching description of the poor and forlorn souls of the Okies draws the reader further into the pamphlet yet fails to fully describe how the workers came to be homeless in California.

[4] Steinbeck addresses the partial root of the problem in a rational, clear, and organized manner. He uses this information to rally the reader and entice him further into the depths of the pamphlet, in hopes of discovering the underlying cause of excess farmers. However, Steinbeck dances around the environmental causes of the large migration, only touching on the mere occurrence of the dust bowl. At no point does Steinbeck describe the dust-bowl effect on the farmer’s land, let alone the partial cause of the loss of nutrients in the topsoil. My general knowledge, gained from several years as an environmental committee member at model United Nations affords me the understanding of the importance of crop rotation in maintaining the nutritional integrity of the topsoil. Inclusion of the faulty rotation of crops that occurred on behalf of the farmers would have discredited Steinbeck’s victimized portrayal of the migrant farmers, associating them with partial blame for the dust bowl and subtracting from the emotional pathos Steinbeck attempts to build in the early chapters.

[5] Steinbeck’s solution to the faulty politics of the Grower’s Association is to replace it with numerous state migratory boards located in close proximity to the farming areas that require the organization of migrant workers (29). His idea consists of a division of a larger branch, the migratory board, to smaller branches, labor boards, which then allocate available jobs to a labor union. The labor union’s duty would be to rally the necessary number of farmers and provide information pertaining to wages and living conditions for each particular job. This idea proves democratic in thought. However, forming boards that are both knowledgeable and free from bias is in and of itself a difficult task, especially when the well being of the farmers must be accounted for. Organizationally, this solution could take years to perfect in its procedures and operations. The abused migrant workers of California need a solution that provides an instant remedy to the problem. In the pamphlet, Steinbeck fails to go into detail about the process he suggests for the birth of such a solution. Without complete explanation of the execution of this proposed solution, the reader retains an incomplete knowledge of Steinbeck’s idea. Though democratic and novel, the idea remains complex and difficult to expedite in time for the next large growing season.

[6] Steinbeck does an excellent job maintaining the reader’s focus on the chilling and gruesome details of the situation that directly correlate to his later proposed solution. He goes into great detail about the three main types of camps, each with different living conditions, in which the majority of migrants reluctantly inhabit. The worst of the three camps, the Squatter Camp, consists of tents erected from twigs, leaves, and bits of tattered clothing (6). Because of the severe lack of many necessary amenities, many children die of mal-nutrition, and disease is ever-present. Because of these treacherous conditions, spirits remain severely damaged. A second type of camp, a speculative ranch, works as a former share crop farm from the post-slavery era. In this situation, farmers are required to inhabit and pay rent for the land they work, consequently leaving them permanently in debt to their superior. The third and remarkably favored living situation is governmental housing, which exists as two experimental camps, Arvin and Marysville. The cost to equip and run these camps runs about $18,000 each and includes bathroom facilities and basic medical supplies (15). Within these camps, the need for police remains obsolete because of the migrant-established democratic government. The importance of these governmental camps stems from the renewed sense of spirit and pride they foster in the farmers that inhabit them (16). Through the democratic operation of these camps farmers become reconnected with the government they felt abandoned them.

[7] Because of the successful trials of these two camps, the “Federal government through the Resettlement Administration, plans to extend these camps” (17). Steinbeck adamantly steers readers in favor of this solution, and logically so. As carried across earlier in the pamphlet, the influx of these workers is necessary for the harvest of the crops and the well being of those who depend on the crops for food. However, simply expanding governmental housing does not solve the problem of overcrowding. In order to solve overcrowding, this solution must be enacted in conjunction with his earlier proposed solution. However, the combination would generate astronomical costs. Further, Steinbeck fails to specify the locations of these proposed camps. Job attraction remains spread through nearly six populated farm valleys in California, meaning numerous governmental housing camps must be created to satisfy the needs of each affected region (4). Steinbeck only briefly states his rebuttal to the monetary arguments against this solution. He argues effectively that the squatter camps have proven to monitor themselves in the absence of police (18). However, the number of police in any specific town should follow a proportionate statistic in regards to the number of inhabitants. Steinbeck does not include this bit of common knowledge, straying his reader from thinking logically about the situation and safety in general.

[8] The second argument in opposition claims that school costs would be severely affected. Steinbeck barely refutes this argument by stating that “even if it did cost more, the communities need the work of these families and must assume some responsibility for them” (18). Steinbeck’s inadequate focus on this argument leaves the reader unaware of the taxation increases that could potentially be felt by the current citizens of the areas in which these camps may locate. The argument of lower land values as a result of these camps is also briefly discussed in a nonchalant manner as if to make the reader discount this issue. Similar attention is drawn to the fourth minor argument, explaining the correlation between the camps and strikes. This argument is mentioned in the pamphlet with little supporting details, despite its validity. Any area in which large bodies of people assemble under the same conditions harbors the potential of violence and striking. What Steinbeck should have expanded upon was that as long as people are treated as decent human beings, they should not have the need to assemble and strike. The poor rebuttals to each of these valid arguments depict Steinbeck’s inability to present both the argument and its rebuttal while simultaneously drawing upon one’s emotions. Exclusion of well- balanced arguments from the pamphlet leaves the reader with an inability to make an informed decision on the topic.

[9] Steinbeck’s artful writing and technique of leaving out important details creates the effect of total agreement among readers, leaving them with incomplete knowledge. Though well thought out and carefully articulated, Steinbeck’s two solutions to the Okie migration issue stem more from an emotional standpoint rather than one of public consideration. His failure to entirely refute the arguments against his solutions leads to the pamphlet’s overall success. However, a success of this type contributes to a partially uninformed public. Lack of knowledge, as was the case with the migrants, attributes to hardship and unrest in society.

Mercy Du, "Migration Anxiety"

[1] In his American Exodus chapter on the “Okie Problem,” James N. Gregory lays out the political, economic, and social reasons that Californians were hostile to the migrants. Politically, the migrant presence brought labor unions that fomented a war between Republicans and Democrats for control of the state. Economically, Californians faced a financial strain caused by unemployment support, scarce housing, lack of basic elementary education, and the increased threat of disease. Socially, Californians saw the Okies as a distinctly inferior, significantly lower class. Altogether, hostility in these three areas added up to one huge Okie problem that can be classified simply as “migrant anxiety.”

[2] Politically, Californians felt threatened by labor unions and the likelihood that the migrants might disrupt the balance of power in Sacramento and turn California over to the liberal side of the Democratic Party. The labor threat came from the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Unions had never been a factor until 1933, when California growers were shocked by a wave of strikes involving 18,000 pickers, forcing them to increase wages for the next few seasons. Organized labor had notable friends in the Democratic Party who set up an alliance that greatly worried many of the valley’s leaders, turning California into a “battleground of frightened conservatives and frustrated liberals.” Traditionally conservative California was now endangered as the Southwesterners were being cultivated by a dangerous multitude of enemies: the Democrats.

[3] Another reason for California anger against the migrants was economic. With the migrants came widespread poverty. And the problem with poverty was not just cost but aesthetics. Wherever Californians turned there were unappealing scenes of rusty old cars, ragged families living in tents, and the “do-it-yourself slums.” Their anguish turned into fear and raised such questions as what do they want? Are they dangerous? The reaction was panic. But cost -- such as the cost of the relief effort -- was certainly an issue too. Californians everywhere were worried about the increasing relief costs because of the high percentage of unemployment and the federal government cutting back WPA projects. The reason for the increase of the relief rolls was because, unlike the Mexicans who would leave during the off-season, Southwesterners would linger year-round. Consequently, Californians were confronted with massive off-season unemployment and slum housing problems from the Southwesterners who were a “serious threat to the health and welfare of the entire country.”

[4] Social class, however, was the most prominent divider between the Californians and the Okies. Californians viewed the Okies as an entirely different race. Consumed by their own pride, the California natives viewed the Okies as mere subordinates. Their prejudice against the Okies was observable in the San Joaquin valley’s caste-like social stratum. Although these migrant workers were white, they were considered lesser and degraded even to a level below African Americans. This social class system was based not only on the region from which the Okies originated (the southwest) but also on their jobs there (sharecropping). Californians stereotyped Southwestern sharecroppers as “white trash,” as “scum.” If you were an Okie, you weren’t a fellow citizen of this country or someone looking for an opportunity to support your family. You were distinct, nonnative, a member of an unwanted social group who was inferior to everyone around you.

[5] Conditions in these three areas help us understand why the Californians were hostile to the Okies. And the situation should be familiar to us, for in the present day many immigrants, especially Mexicans, are treated with hostility just like the Okies. The “migration anxiety” that Gregory describes in the 30s is no different than today’s “[im]migration anxiety.”

Heather Camperson, "Isolation -- Assimilation -- Resistance"

[1] In the 1930s severe drought plagued the Midwest and cost many people their farms. New technology made farming more economically efficient and meant that tenants were no longer needed to cultivate the land. As a result, hundreds of farmers from the Midwest were forced to leave their homes and resettle in California, “the promised land.” Once they arrived in California, the migrants, referred to as “Okies,” learned that jobs were limited and did not pay well. Not only did the Okies have to face the reality that California was not a land of opportunities, they also had to deal with discrimination. Okies dealt with the psychological challenges of resettlement in many different ways. While adults either tried to isolate themselves from or blend into the California lifestyle, the younger generation handled resettlement through denial and withdrawal.

[2] Countless Okies made resettlement easier by sticking to their roots and their culture. Okies who made up the lower socio-economic class typically migrated to the valleys and found it harder to assimilate to the California lifestyle. Up against adversity, the migrants realized that the only choice they had was to isolate themselves from Californians and band together with one another. Often times Okies tried to limit any contact with Californians to decrease any possibilities of discrimination. Californians were unwelcoming and often times very callous, making comments about the way that Okies spoke or the way they dressed. One man from Arkansas described them as “just a little distant and made you feel like they just didn’t want to talk. Sort of cut you off short. They didn’t seem to want to mess with me” (Gregory 126).

[3] Although it may have been hard initially for Okies to isolate themselves, in the end it was more often than not beneficial. A lot of migrants reported having had “satisfactory” treatment, and when surveyed about 70% said that they had never run into discrimination or prejudice. Through their own small communities comprised of other migrants, Okies were able to survive and stay strong in their attempts at maintaining their personal identities. While it was easy for some to isolate themselves from the rest of California, many succumbed to the pressure to conform in order to succeed in their new lives.

[4] Many of the migrants traveling from the Midwest dealt with the psychological challenges of resettlement by attempting to assimilate to the California lifestyle. This, however, was strenuous and often times was dictated by what parts of California the Okies resettled in. Those who lived in metropolitan areas, where the Californians were more socially accepting, found it easier to integrate into the new lifestyle than those who lived in the valleys. These Okies wanted to appear as though they were California natives, and in order to do that they needed to transform themselves. No longer would an Okie be seen in overalls or would they talk with a “twang” that so easily defined where they came from.

[5] What the migrants really tried to separate themselves from was the term “Okie” bestowed upon them immediately when they entered California. They did not want to be associated with the term “Okie” because it labeled them and kept them from breaking free from discrimination. Some found it particularly insulting simply because of the fact that they were from other areas in the Midwest, like Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri. Those who were not from Oklahoma thought that being able to say they were not an “Okie” could possibly make them a littler better or more respected than migrants who were truly from Oklahoma. Adults even encouraged children to stop listening to music from the Midwest and also encouraged the young girls to date sons of wealthy Californians. However, despite how hard the adults tried to help the younger generation assimilate, teenagers found ways to fight back and not follow the guidance of their elders.

[6] While adults may make it seem like they faced great adversity in transitioning from their old lives to new ones, the younger generation had a much more difficult experience and often times dealt with the adversity through defiance and withdrawal. It was obvious to the Okie children how different they were from California natives when they attended school. The children were teased on a number of different aspects, spanning from the way that they dressed, the way that they talked, to even how well they performed in school. Coming from the Midwest, often times the Okie children were not on the proper level of education that they should have been for their age, in part because rather than attending school many children had to work on their family farms. Even teachers took part in directing discouraging comments towards the Okies. Names such as “maggie” and “maggot” arose from the term migrant and were used against the Okie children continuously.

[7] The migrants were confused at the discrimination they faced, and as a result they acted out. It was not uncommon to see an Okie disrupting class or even talking back to a teacher. An example that highlights this comes from a fourteen-year-old boy whose teacher told him he was not raised well, to which he responded, “Do you know what they do with insane people in Oklahoma and Texas? They send them to California to be school teachers” (Gregory 134). Some teens dropped out of school altogether because they could not handle the stress of discrimination. At age 14, 97% of Southwesterners were enrolled in school, but by the time they were only 19 years old there was only 27% of migrants still pursuing an education. Countless teens turned to crime, making it that much more difficult for them to get away from their bad reputations. The chief probation officer for Kern County in 1939 reported that “60% of the children who come before the Probation offices and Juvenile Court of this Country have been in the state less than two years” (134), further emphasizing the crime rate amongst migrants. Nonetheless, some children were able to find success despite the adversity they faced.

[8] Through staying focused and determined to do well in school, there were a few young migrants who were able to build success within the school system. By excelling academically many Okies found the acceptance they had all been longing for since the first day they resettled in California. Others were able to gain respect through excelling at sports and thus were embraced into a higher social group. Even so, this was not the case for a majority of the migrant children, who were at a huge disadvantage when they began attending integrated schools with California natives.

[9] There was not one single way that migrants from the Midwest dealt with the psychological challenges of resettlement in California. Many of the Okies who settled in the valleys of California were able to isolate themselves and create a community comprised of other migrants. For those Okies living in metropolitan areas they tried to assimilate to the new culture rather than detach themselves. The younger generation, however, had a much more difficult time: while some were able to succeed, a greater part handled resettlement through resistance. There is no doubt that leaving their farms proved to be a challenging experience for all migrants, and while many found ways to deal with resettlement, there are several stories in which Okies traveled back to their homeland. It is unimaginable that American citizens would ever have to feel the pain of resettlement that so many Okies felt.

Jillian Sloand, "Carey McWilliams’ Solution to the Migrant Problem"

[1] California had a long history of migration years before the Dust Bowl, but the magnitude of the Dust Bowl migration significantly impacted the state. California’s migration eras in the past had been the result of mining attractions, in which an influx of migrants came into the state, profited from the land, and returned home with their new fortunes. However, the Dust Bowl migration was different in that it brought farmers into California to work, inhabit the state, and never leave. As a result, work opportunities, wages, and overall living conditions plummeted. This movement was noted for causing social injustices and lasting economic issues. Although the area had experienced similar eras of migration in the past, the underlying causes of the Dust Bowl migration were harder to recognize. Even more difficult to fully identify was an effective solution to the social and economic problems that arose during this time, but one scholar came up with a radical explanation for the preceding concerns.

[2] Carey McWilliams, a lawyer and writer from California, tried to resolve the misconceptions about the Dust Bowl migration and offer insight into the issues that evolved from it. McWilliams had a strong background in the migration affairs in California and wrote his well-known book Factories in the Field (1939) to expose the migrant problem in the state. Here, he criticizes the power of politics and big-business on the poor farmer as he takes on a left-winged view of the situation. Through his investigation into the problem, McWilliams unveils the hidden history of the migration movement in California.

[3] During the Dust Bowl era, farmers in the mid-west were forced off their land due to its poor condition and lack of productivity. To begin their lives anew, these farmers migrated to California, as flyers were posted that promised plentiful job opportunities in that state. These mid-westerners packed up all of their belongings—what little they owned—in the back of their trucks and trekked across the country to the “land of opportunity,” where they intended to settle and live out the rest of their lives. Once there, these farmers were faced with unexpected adversities. Where thousands of jobs were advertised as available, only a third still existed. Promised high wages were no longer given out, and these farmers became poorer by the day. Conditions were worse than unfavorable, and the migration situation in California became a larger problem than expected.

[4] One California community in particular exemplified the dismal conditions of the state at this time. Nipomo, a community north of Santa Barbara, first advertised that thousands of jobs were available to willing workers. Yet, as thousands of workers showed up to work, they found only one-third of the advertised jobs were actually available to them. No work meant no wages and no food, while thousands were left starving, and children died of malnutrition. In this area specifically, the effects of the poor conditions went beyond physical consequences. Psychologically, desperation turned the farmers into animals, as their environment stripped them of their humanity. Housing conditions consisted of shacks and tents without plumbing. Many epidemics broke out from inadequate health and sanitation measures, and hospitals were even overcrowded. Even the education of the children was impacted, as children left school seasonally to work for their families. This is just one example of the poor conditions of the communities in California during this era.

[5] Part of the hidden history of this time that McWilliams reveals is that the migrants’ failures were not their own fault. The migrants were victims of the situation around them, which is often misunderstood. The landowners were the ones to advertise that jobs were available and conditions were more favorable in the west, and it only seems logical that the farmers would take advantage of these opportunities. Accordingly, thousands more farmers headed west than the area could handle, and authorities were brought in to keep the excess of farmers from entering California. After promising them job opportunities, they were forced to turn the farmers back home. Evidently, the farmers had no control in this situation and were not at fault for the problems that arose from the mass migration. In fact, it is the landowners themselves who are to blame for the issues surrounding this movement. They are the ones in control—the ones who enticed farmers to the area to work and then turned them back home out of inconsideration for the farmers and selfishness for their own profit.

[6] McWilliams exposes the “social dynamite” inherent in a society in which the landowners hold so much more power than the poor farmer. Although this occurrence of the social ladder and its descending rungs is natural in the world, it has lasting effects on society that were exposed during this time. It is the private owner who controls the masses and ultimately creates the social unrest in the state. As expected, this then has physical and psychological effects on the farmers, as they are less suited and less motivated to work and make their lives and the farms productive. The individual setbacks of these farmers also contribute to the overall declining of the economy. Furthermore, the process of migration turns into the landowners recruiting the minorities, exploiting them, and finally replacing them with “fresher resources.” Additionally, what makes this problem worse is that the process is accepted by the farmers. The poor farmers, the victims, cannot revolt in their situation. They are forced to live in these conditions, and they accept them out of desperation, which falsely conveys the condoning of the landowners’ practices. Conclusively, the power that the landowners exert on the poor farmers hurts them from making their lives and the economy overall productive, facilitating the expansion of the migration problem in the area.

[7] Attempts to solve these issues were attempted for years without success. One of the first solutions attempted was to introduce border control to regulate migration between the states. Authorities stationed at the entrances of the state were successful in turning back many migrants, thus decreasing the numbers and impact of the migration movement -- but this solution could only do so much. The mass numbers of migrants were still too much to handle, and many migrants were still allowed into the state. Another common solution was the passing of legislation to regulate migration between states, but this method was even weaker than human border control. McWilliams, however, had his own solution.

[8] Synonymous with what John Steinbeck proposes in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, McWilliams suggests a solution to this migration situation in collectivization. He believed that moving away from monopolistic control of the land to collective control would help organize workers to regulate their employment. This larger-scale control would help keep private owners from exploiting the poor farmers, which would improve conditions for them at the farms. This solution would also eliminate housing and education concerns for the farmers, as the state would be able to provide these services. Overall, the migration situation would become more stable, as there would be uniform practices from farm to farm within the state. Ultimately, the hope was that collectivization would down-play the dominance of the social ladder, as landowners would no longer have control over the poor farmer, and, accordingly, in McWilliams’ radical views, the social ladder would collapse.

[9] In conclusion, the migrant problem in California during the Dust Bowl era had a larger impact on the area than any migration movement in the area in the past. The whole movement at this time was the result of poor farming conditions in the mid-west that forced farmers off their homeland and to California, as the state’s landowners enticed these desperate workers to the area to begin their lives anew. The landowners’ promises fell short as too many farmers showed up to work, and chaos broke out in the west as these migrants were exploited. Society experienced negative effects economically, as the land and workers were less productive, and large-scale problems arose within the state. Border patrols and legislation attempted unsuccessfully to solve the migration problem, but McWilliams claimed that collectivization would organize workers and keep landowners out of power, offering the best outlook on the issues surrounding the migration situation at that time. McWilliams promoted his method as not only the real solution to the problem but as the final solution to the issues revolving around the migration movement at this time.

Print Resources

Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939.
Writer Agee and photographer Evans spent a month living with sharecroppers, and their book is "the beginning of an attempt as exhaustively as possible to record and examine a piece of unimagined human consciousness."
Casey, Janet Galligani. "Dis/Locating the Radical in The Grapes of Wrath." The Grapes of Wrath: A Re-Consideration. Ed. Michael J. Meyer. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.
Casey argues that "the novel's radicalism is a carefully attenuated one." One major difficulty in defining The Grapes of Wrath as "radical" is that "despite accusations that it is propagandistic, it espouses no clear political agenda." Although Grapes clearly focuses on the travels of the Joad family, "their story is consistently interrupted by the story of a larger group." This idea that the Joad family is not alone strengthens "their apparent status as part of a larger whole." Instead of the Joad family struggling through the depression as one small family, they are part of a much larger "family" that is going through the same struggles. Casey explains that "Steinbeck clearly wanted to access the ideological power of a collective perspective, but he seems to have done so in a way that permitted individual character to win out." The Grapes of Wrath cannot be placed neatly in one literary category, because this novel is poetic yet political. But this inability to easily categorize the novel "might be understood as a radical move in itself."
Dunn, Larry, and Kathi Durham, eds. The Grapes of Wrath in Kern County. Bakersfield: Bakersfield College, 1982.
Local history project by college sophomores focusing on "Steinbeck's verisimilitude, the effect of the novel on the people of whom he wrote, and how those people view the novel after more than forty years." Four interviews and essays on religion, history, censorship, and migration.
French, Warren. A Companion to The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 1963.
Especially helpful for reviews of reviews, "answers" to the novel, and other information about the book's reception at home and abroad.
"The Grasslands." Fortune November 1935: 58-67.
Long, multi-parted, and sometimes sensationalistic story of the end of grass and the beginning of the dust storms: grass, "the key to life on the 2,000,000,000 acres of this continent. Why the dust storms of last spring are warnings that man has abused his planet past its powers of resistance and why government, science, and the common citizen must now unite to save it."
Hartranft, Marshall V. Grapes of Gladness: California's Refreshing and Inspiring Answer to John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." Los Angeles: DeVorss & Co. 1939.
An "answer" to Steinbeck's novel. The story of Shore Acres, a "suburban real-estate development where migrants are given an acre of land to work in return for minimal payment of interest and taxes." A migrant family discovers this paradise and rescues others.
"I Wonder Where We Can Go Now." Fortune April 1939: 90-94, 112-19.
Lengthy exploration of the Okie problem and its history at almost exactly the time that the Steinbeck novel comes out.
Lingo, Marci. "Forbidden Fruit: The Banning of The Grapes of Wrath in the Kern County Free Library." Libraries and Culture 38.4 (2003): 351-77.
The Kern County, California, board of supervisors' action to ban John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath from the Kern County Free Library shortly after the novel's publication in 1939 was controversial and unprecedented in the county's history, but so was the influx of migrant farmworkers into the county. At the height of the Great Depression, the county's population grew over 63 percent in five years. The board's action was influenced by powerful economic, social, and political factors. Caught between the ideological struggles of powers like the Associated Farmers and the unions and the seemingly contradictory policies of the American Library Association, librarian Gretchen Knief, with the advice of California State Librarian Mabel Gillis, complied with the board's order. While Knief protested in personal correspondence to the supervisors, publicly she remained silent, yet she defied the spirit of the order by making copies of the books available to other libraries in California—albeit briefly. Although the ban was lifted when the political climate in the county changed, it reflects the ambivalent attitudes about the Okies, illustrates the power of governing boards to censor public libraries, and underscores the precarious nature of intellectual freedom in libraries.
MacLeish, Archibald. Land of the Free. New York, Harcourt, Brace and Co. 1938.
Poem by MacLeish, almost 100 photographs of Dust Bowl farmers and farm scenes by such photographers as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn. Macleish: "Land of the Free is the opposite of a book of poems illustrated by photographs. It is a book of photographs illustrated by a poem."
McWilliams, Carey. Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California. Boston: Little, Brown, 1939.
Like Steinbeck, McWilliams blew open the "hidden history" of "social conflict, of "social dynamite" in the California agricultural industry now replacing the farm with the farm factory: "The exploitation of farm labor in California [is] one of the ugliest chapters in the history of American industry." A "vast army of workers" is in "tatters." In California, "the mechanism of fascist control has been carried to further lengths than elsewhere in America." Today the workers are "restless but quiet; tomorrow they may be rebellious." A revolution in land ownership and agricultural methods is needed.
McWilliams, Carey. Ill Fares the Land: Migrants and Migratory Labor in the United States. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942.
"This book is about two types of agricultural migrants: the depression or removal migrants -- those who, like the Joads, have been displaced from agriculture and set adrift on the land; and the habitual migrant or migratory worker who, for years, has been following an established migratory route. Intimately connected and frequently overlapping, both groups are victims, in the last analysis, of the industrial revolution in agriculture."
Miltner, Robert. "Monopolizing Monsters: Demise of the Family Farm and the Rise of Corporate Farming in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath." The Grapes of Wrath: A Re-Consideration. Ed. Michael J. Meyer. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.
Miltner both challenges and applauds The Grapes of Wrath. He discusses the historically inaccurate aspects of the film, such as how the term "Okie" largely misrepresents the migrants who were forced to flee and how Steinbeck led his readers to believe that all states affected by the Dustbowl were destitute and poverty stricken. He disputes big businesses and the corporate farming industries for how they destroyed and revolutionized the entire agricultural market. Miltner even links the past with the present by claiming that the Okie's downfall, and more generally the private farming sector's demise, led to the rise of the vast food businesses that dominate today's food industry. Defending the Joad's story as one that is applicable to most farmers of their era, Miltner acknowledges and supports their deep love and cultural ties to the land, which he believed to be rightfully theirs. Lastly, to show his appreciation of Steinbeck, he praises him for his work that ultimately brought national awareness to the social injustice that these farmers were forced to endure.
Miron, George Thomas. The Truth about John Steinbeck and the Migrants. Los Angeles: printed by Haynes Corp., 1939.
An "answer" to Steinbeck's novel: "I merely wish to say that all revolutionary-proletarian fiction is more or less alike in the matter of prejudice, exaggeration and over-simplification. And I hope to trace these phases in some of Steinbeck's writing."
Mitchell, Ruth Comfort. Of Human Kindness. New York: Appleton-Century, 1940.
A popular novel by a popular novelist that is, in effect, an "answer" to Steinbeck's novel. Mitchell's work, according to Warren French, "glorifies the struggle of a proud and independent California farm family to wrest a living from the soil, and attributes the problems posed by the Okies to the shiftlessness of the migrants and the agitation of oversexed Communists." According to Carey McWilliams, Mitchell makes the Associated Farmers "sociological saints."
Neuberger, Richard L. "The New Oregon Trail." Collier's 27 March 1937: 14-15, 38.
Okies moving to the Northwest not California: "Some of the forty-niners stopped short and settled in the Dust Bowl, though it wasn't called that then. Now their descendants are going on with the journey westward. They travel with flat pocketbooks, most of them, but they carry with them their grandfather's possession -- the courage of the early frontier."
Richardson, Peter. American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2005.
McWilliams "is best known for his writings about social issues in California, including the condition of migrant farm workers and the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. . . . His first bestseller, Factories in the Field, appeared in 1939 and ranks among his most enduring works. Published within months of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, it examines the lives of migrant farm workers in California and condemns the politics and consequences of large-scale agribusiness."
Schweiger, Florian. "The Joad Collective: Class Consciousness and Social Reorganization in The Grapes of Wrath." The Grapes of Wrath: A Re-Consideration. Ed. Michael J. Meyer. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.
Schwieger asserts that the novel is more than just a simple interpretation of the suffering endured by the farmer turned migrant worker. Steinbeck's creation of the Joad family is, in fact, an in-depth analysis of the plight of the tenant farmer during the corporate farming takeover, reflecting on both the economic and societal issues of the time. Schwieger discusses Steinbeck's treatment of these people in great detail, corroborating his contention that the author's knowledge of the subject matter delved much deeper than just a passing interest. Overall, Schwieger notes that the novel's blend of fact and fiction creates a work that is at once a radical and logical reflection of human tragedy and its part in the awakening social reform.
Shillinglaw, Susan. "California Answers The Grapes of Wrath." The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ed. Barbara Heavilin. Westport: Greenwood P, 2000.
Shillinglaw addresses California's response to the migrant worker. She discusses their early campaigns to remove the influx of workers, along with their overt attack in the media, through which they defend their treatment of the migrants. After the publication of Steinbeck's novel, the campaign was elevated to a new level. Supporters of the California farmers spoke out vehemently against the novel, claiming it exaggerated and misrepresented the facts. Shillinglaw examines this idea of misrepresentation through interpretation by comparing the outlook of Steinbeck with popular novelist – and wife of a California dairy farmer and Senator – Ruth Comfort Mitchell. Through this comparison Shillinglaw is able to establish how differently two individuals exposed to the same situation are predisposed to interpret it in their own ways.
Shockley, Martin Staples. "The Reception of The Grapes of Wrath in Oklahoma." American Literature 15 (1944): 351-61.
Shockley offers an overview of and insight into Oklahoman mentality after the debut of Steinbeck's novel: "Much of what has passed in Oklahoma for criticism of The Grapes of Wrath has been little or nothing more than efforts to prove or disprove the factual accuracy of Steinbeck's fiction." Because this novel was so controversial in its factual accuracy, Oklahomans did not share a consensus towards its reality, resulting in a severed mentality. The antagonists who denounce Steinbeck's novel as false are editors of newspapers and politicians of the state, while the people who support the factual evidence are the very "Okies" Steinbeck describes in his novel. Shockley continues to elaborate on the situation that brews within Oklahoma as the tensions between the two sides bring about various political, economical, and social dilemmas. Shockley does not possess a particular standpoint but stands as an unbiased mediator as he describes the pros and cons that both perspectives face as the situation seems to heighten. Although Shockley never seems to have a conclusion, he successfully describes the bulk of the situation through the eyes of the pro-Steinbecks (Okies) and the anti-Steinbecks (editors and politicians).
Sillen, Samuel. "Censoring The Grapes of Wrath." New Masses 12 September 1939: 23-24.
Sillen documents the campaign to remove Steinbeck's novel from libraries in California -- and across the United States. He notes that the novel is commonly referred to as "vulgar" and "obscene" and even goes so far as to compare it to other works being censored at the time in an effort to test the validity of such claims. Many libraries refused to stock the book or to accept the donation of it from community members. Most of those seeking to censor the book do so out of a misbegotten notion that Steinbeck is enforcing a Communist agenda. Sillen's article operates as a call to arms in an effort to protect The Grapes of Wrath from its opposers.
Smith, John R. "Making the Cut: Documentary Work in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath." Literature Film Quarterly 35.4 (2007): 323-29.
Smith draws similarities between Ford's film and those of documentary makers -- specifically Dorthea Lange – of the Depression era. He particularly emphasizes Ford's use of cropped images in relation to those of Lange's. Smith also draws a comparison between the documentary style of telling a story through the documented people and Ford's depiction of the Joad's. Overall, Smith praises Ford's work, referring to it as a "hybrid" that allows itself to be influenced by other forms while keeping Steinbeck's message in mind.
Steichen, Edward. The Bitter Years: 1935-41. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1962.
Museum exhibit on rural America as seen by the photographers of the Farm Security administration: Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, John Vachon, etc.
Steinbeck, John. Their Blood Is Strong. San Francisco: Simon J. Lubin Society, 1938.
The articles based on his first-hand experience that Steinbeck published in the San Francisco News in October 1936 plus an epilogue in 1938.
Taylor, Paul S., with photographs by Dorothea Lange. "Again the Covered Wagons." Survey Graphic July 1935.
Taylor draws from a mix of visual elements and oral narratives to compile a survey of the 1930s refugee migration. Similar to the dust and drought connected with the physical erosion of the fields, Taylor claims that depression caused a "social erosion" of the people who occupied these fields. In this context, the people, the metaphorical nutrients of the land, were forced from the land and as a result became like the land: stretched and "tattered," in "obvious distress." Such erosion, he suggests, was not unique to the time period but, rather, "follows [a] channel cut historically" by the gold and cotton rushes of earlier times. In each case depression within their homelands forced the migrants out, but it was hope that spurned the migrants onward. Taylor quotes one man, sleeping on drenched bedding in a topless car, whose hope was shockingly clear from his words: "Pretty hard on us now. Sun'll come out pretty soon and we'll be alright." Despite this blunt hope, the migrants were caught between a rock and hard place. After leaving their destitute homes they arrived to find, not an abundance of opportunity, but rather a different kind of "frontier, one of social conflict." Taylor goes into great detail about the social dynamic of the Californian valleys. He suggests that, while many of the refugees thought of striking as a last resort, they were forced to band together and as a result contacted even more resistance. Similarly, many were wary to receive aid; however, the circumstances made acceptance inevitable and resulted in even more criticism from the Californian population. Through all of this it is evident that there is no easy solution to the migration problem. Taylor is aware of this and, as a result, seeks to educate people about the struggles facing the migrants, so that eventually they might have some hope for a "tranquil" future.
Windschuttle, Keith. "Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies." New Criterion 20.10 (2002): 24-32.
While Windschuttle acknowledges Steinbeck's novel as a highly celebrated piece of writing, he contends that much of the novel's content consists of "outright lies" and immense exaggeration. He asserts that one such "lie" is the effect of dust storms on Oklahoma's farmers, claiming only a small portion of those living in the Dust Bowl region actually migrated to California. Windschuttle instead notes that most people traveling to California came from cities and did so in response to the economic trials of the Great Depression. Windschuttle goes on to examine many other historical discrepancies, concluding that Steinbeck's novel retains its popularity -- even in the face of its blatant misrepresentation of the time -- because it celebrates the ideas of the American family.

See Also

Allen, Frederick Lewis. The Nineteen-Thirties in America. New York: Harper, 1940.

"Associated Farmers of Kern County, Calif, Approve Ban on The Grapes of Wrath." Wilson Library Bulletin October 1939: 102.

"Attempts to Suppress Grapes of Wrath." Publishers Weekly 2 September 1939: 777.

Babb, Sanora, and Dorothy Babb. On the Dirty Plate Trail: Remembering the Dust Bowl Refugee Camps. Arlington: U of Texas P, 2007.

Bonnifield, Paul. The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt and Depression. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1979.

Bourke-White, Margaret. The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White. Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1972.

Burress, Lee. "Censorship and The Grapes of Wrath." Readings on the Grapes of Wrath. Ed. Gary Weiner. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1999. 159-64.

Caldwell, Erskine, and Margaret Bourke-White. You Have Seen Their Faces. New York: Modern Age Books, 1937.

Callahan, Sean, ed. The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White. Boston: New York Historical Society, 1975.

Critser, Greg. "The Making of a Cultural Rebel: Carey McWilliams, 1924-1930." Pacific Historical Review 55 (1986): 226-55.

Critser, Greg. "The Political Rebellion of Carey McWilliams." UCLA Historical Journal 4 (1983): 34-65.

Dickstein, Morris. "Steinbeck and the Great Depression." South Atlantic Quarterly 103.1 (2004): 111-31.

Dudley, William, ed. The Great Depression. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.

Geary, Daniel. "Carey McWilliams and Antifascism, 1934–1943." Journal of American History 90.3 (2003): 912-34.

"Grapes of Wrath Banned by Buffalo Library." Publishers Weekly 12 August 1939: 453.

"Grapes of Wrath consigned to flames by Library board of East St Louis, Ill." Publishers Weekly 25 November 1939: 1994.

Gregory, James Noble. American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Johnson, Vance. Heaven's Tableland: The Dust Bowl Story. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1947.

K., S. J. "The Roving Eye." Wilson Library Bulletin April 1940: 574. Editorial notice of Lee F. Zimmerman's statement on Grapes of Wrath.

Lange, Dorothea. An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in the Thirties. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1940.

Lisca, Peter. The Wide World of John Steinbeck. Staten Island: Gordian Press, 1981. 1958.

Migrant Farm Labor: The Problem and How to Meet It. Washington: Dept of Agriculture, 1940.

"New Campaign for The Grapes of Wrath." Publishers Weekly 5 August 1939: 355. [novel]

Owens, Louis. The Grapes of Wrath: Trouble in the Promised Land. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Parfit, Michael. "The Dust Bowl." Smithsonian June 1989: 44-57.

Stein, Walter J. California and the Dust Bowl Migration. Westport: Greenwood, 1973.

Steinbeck, John. The Harvest Gypsies . San Francisco: The San Francisco News, 1936. [reprinted Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1988.

Stewart, Dean, and Jeannine Gendar, eds. Fool's Paradise: A Carey McWilliams Reader. Santa Clara: Santa Clara UP, 2001.

Taylor, Frank. J. "California's Grapes of Wrath [Joad family not typical]." The Forum November 1939: 232-38.

Terkel, Studs. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. New York: Panttheon, 1970.

"Trampling Grapes of Wrath [California farmers assail Steinbeck, concentrate on drive for restrictive labor laws]." Business Week 16 December 1939: 38.

Wartzman, Rick. Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Public Affairs, 2008.

Video/Audio Resources

Guthrie, Woody. Dust Bowl Ballads. New York: Buddha Records, 2000.
Classic period pieces by the famed folks singer: "The Great Dust Storm," "Dust Bowl Blues," "Tom Joad," "Dust Cain't Kill Me," etc.
Harvest of Shame (1960)
Clssic Edward R. Murrow documentary: There seems to be no other story than one of travail and hardship for the migratory workers on the east coast. After traveling an average of 1,600 miles, these families arrive in hopes of a better future but find nothing but desolation. Each successive job search inevitably ends in failure for these workers, and both men and women alike are reduced to agricultural labor. These workers find themselves engulfed in a vicious cycle they cannot break free of. It stands that they either continue their jobs or let their families and themselves suffer in poverty. Those who employ them often overlook the pain of these migratory workers. Their ignorance allows them to believe that their workers are happy. In addition to their poor working conditions, these migratory workers are forced to live in cramped and thoroughly unsanitary labor camps. These camps consist of the bare minimum necessary for living: one room, one bed, bull pits, and in some cases only one bunk. In an attempt to escape this life of desolation, workers begin to leave the camps to find housing elsewhere. Paradoxically, this merely expands the slums. It's said that this way of life is "as primitive as man can live." The hope of the migrant workers and leaders lies in the education of their children. Unfortunately the cycle of poverty is one that is not so easily broken. With limited resources and scarce educational opportunities most children of migrant workers receive very little education. The problem resides in the nation's neglect of these workers and their horrid living conditions. "Migrant Farmers are the most poorly housed number of our society."
The Plow That Broke the Plains. Pare Lorentz. 1936.
Depicts the social and economic history of the Great Plains from the settlement of the prairies by cattlemen and farmers through the World War I boom to drought and depression. Perhaps most famous for its tractor montage.
The River. Directed by Pare Lorentz, 1937.
This movie is a U.S government documentary, telling the story of the Mississippi River. It combines images with a beautiful soundtrack, while giving information on the impact American industrialization has had on the river. I found it very informative, giving a nice background on the life of a sharecropper family, and how they came to be in that situation. Overuse and abuse of the land had weakened the soil, leaving it defenseless when harsh floods washed away all the precious topsoil that had been loosened. As the land became more and more damaged, the farmers who made a living off it became poorer and poorer. Each year more farmers were forced into tenancy, meaning they didn't own the land they were farming, and survived off the crops they grew each day. This was the situation of the Joad family. The documentary is good for anyone who would like to learn the background of the Joads' situation.
Surviving the Dust Bowl.
Web site companion to the film: The story of the farmers who came to the Southern Plains of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas dreaming of prosperity, and lived through ten years of drought, dust, disease, and death.
Surviving the Dust Bowl. Written and produced by Chana Gazit co-produced and edited by David Steward, for "The American Experience," a production of WGBH Boston, Mass. 1998, A Stewart/Gazit Productions, Inc.
Chana Gazit relays Southern Plain farmers' horrifying experiences throughout the 1930 drought. This hour-long documentary focuses on real-life survivors' accounts of the Dust Bowl. All of the survivors' tales are filled with hardship as they struggle to live through dust storms that consistently cover their homes with films of dirt. The narrators share terrifying stories of the decade-long drought that left their families' farmlands barren. Some told of their difficulties finding sufficient food to keep alive, while others informed viewers of kin who grew deathly sick with dust pneumonia. Although these Dust-Bowlers dealt with unbelievably harsh weather conditions, they were able to withstand tough times and refrain from migrating to California.

Online Resources

About the Dust Bowl
has a timeline
America in the 1930s
The project views the 1930s through the lenses of its films, radio programs, literature, journalism, museums, exhibitions, architecture, art, and other forms of cultural expression.
"Between the Wars: The Dust Bowl"
The Dust Bowl in words and song.
The Dust Bowl
Collection of photos.
The New Deal Network
An educational guide to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
A Photo Essay on the Great Depression
Urban and rural.
Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Life 5 June 1939: 66-67.
Statue of Liberty on the cover. With pictures by Horace Bristol.
"Speaking of Pictures: These pictures prove facts in Grapes of Wrath." Life 19 February 1940: 10-11.
These pictures prove facts in Grapes of Wrath.
Tent cities spring up in LA
Modern-day similarities.
Thompson, Paul. "Pictured: The credit crunch tent city which has returned to haunt America." Mail Online 6 March 2009.
Contemporary similarities: "A century and a half ago it was at the centre of the Californian gold rush, with hopeful prospectors pitching their tents along the banks of the American River. Today, tents are once again springing up in the city of Sacramento. But this time it is for people with no hope and no prospects."
Todd, Charles L. ""Trampling out the Vintage: Farm Security Camps Provide the Imperial Valley Migrants with a Home and a Hope." Common Sense July 1939: 7-8, 30.
"Farm Security camps provide the Imperial Valley migrants with a home and a hope."
Todd, Charles L. "The Okies Search for a Lost Frontier." New York Times Magazine 27 August 1939.
On the spot depiction.
Voices from the Dust Bowl
"Documenting the everyday life of residents of Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941. This collection consists of audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications, and ephemera generated during two separate documentation trips supported by the Archive of American Folk Song."
Weedpatch Camp
"While writing the book, John Steinbeck visited Bakersfield, California and based his book on Arvin Federal Government Camp which he portrayed as 'Weedpatch Camp.' This camp exists today and is still used by migrant workers."