The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Depression

Depression newspaper

Well I’ve finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, but before I post my review, here’s a little information about The Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the government camps which were established to help the migrant farm workers.

Depression shantytown
Shantytowns like this one were common.

The Great Depression was a worldwide crisis. It began with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and continued for ten years in the United States and beyond that for other countries. The Depression affected not just migrant farm workers, but people and industries everywhere, urban and rural. Heavy industry, construction, farming, shipping, mining and logging were especially hard-hit. The automobile and appliance industries also suffered. Unemployment was a massive problem. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and its many federal assistance programs helped put the United States back on its feet.

Severe drought and dust storms in the mid-west created what's called the Dust Bowl.
Severe drought and dust storms in the mid-west created what’s called the Dust Bowl.
The Joads were a lot like this migrant family.
The Joads were a lot like this migrant family.

Steinbeck featured the Weedpatch Camp in his book. It was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Resettlement Administration (RA) to house migrant workers. Running hot and cold water, bathrooms, a library, a school, and help finding work restored dignity to the hundreds of thousands homeless farm workers in California. Of course, the Joads couldn’t find work and had to move on, but the camp gave them hope.

FDR’s New Deal programs set up eighteen camps all along California’s farmland. The growers’ organizations opposed these camps because they were afraid of unions.

Here’s something interesting about Steinbeck’s dedication of The Grapes of Wrath, which reads as follows:

“To CAROL who willed this book.
To TOM who lived it.”

I always thought the “Tom” was Tom Joad, but I was wrong! Steinbeck dedicated The Grapes of Wrath to the first administrator of the Weedpatch Camp, Tom Collins (He is portrayed by Jim Rawley, the camp manager, in the book). Tom Collins was manager at Weedpatch when they met in 1936. Steinbeck visited Weedpatch several times and the two of them traveled up and down the San Joaquin valley where they offered aid and gathered information for Steinbeck’s series of articles on the migrant crisis for the San Francisco News.

The Weedpatch Camp is now called the Sunset Labor Camp and assists migrant farm workers.

What happened to the migrant workers in the 1940s?

When the United States entered World War II, migrant workers took on defense jobs and worked in shipyards and other industries that supported the war. Ironically, this change led to a shortage of farm pickers. So the United States created the Bracero Program, which recruited temporary guest workers from Mexico.

Today’s migrant farm workers are predominantly from Mexico, a situation with its own set of serious problems. Check out this article from about the current migrant worker problems: “Migrant Farm Workers: Our Nation’s Invisible Population.”

Thanks to the following sources for pictures:

Dust bowl:

And thanks to these interesting sites and articles which are linked above:

Wikipedia,,, and

Check back tomorrow for my actual review!




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