Chapter 27

Steinbeck, as a reporter and witness and before he even wrote the “Grapes of Wrath”, spent a long time traveling to the migrants’s roadside camps in Kern County. He also toured Arvin Camp, a federally funded migrant camp near Bakersfield (this camp still exists and is used by migrant workers today). While at the camp, Steinbeck gathered valuable information and insights into the migrants’ life, reading camp manager Tom Collins’ reports of the migrants’ suffering and misfortune, and speaking to destitute migrants. Collins was in fact the Resettlement Administration staff member assigned to go with Steinbeck, as they toured several migrant camps. 

 “Fingers go right to it”…”Fingers know…”Inquisitive fingers snick in and out and find the bolls. Hardly have to look”…”Bet I could pick cotton if I was blind.”

Cotton Pickers

Cotton pickers do know their job and do it quickly and efficiently. But there is hardly enough work for all cotton pickers. Families have the young ones work with them, to earn as much as possible. After all, they are paid by weight: “Sometimes he’s right, you got rocks in the sack. Sometimes you’re right, the scales is crooked. Sometimes both; rocks and crooked scales. Always argue, always fight”.

Steinbeck points out a common problem in agriculture, the excessive depletion of soil nutrients by poor agricultural practices. Growing cotton depletes the soil and cotton growers would rather rent the land, grow the cotton and leave, rather than doing crop rotation.

 Winter is coming, and the migrant families know that they have to save some money to survive the winter, the time of the year where there are no crops, and no harvesting work.

 But how can you save money when fifty people work and there are five hundred other people waiting to work? In the fields, men are already fighting for rows, frantically working to get to the next row first.

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Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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