Migratory Workers Depicted in Literature Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In the Americas, migrant workers include farmworkers from the Caribbean, Mexico, and other countries of Latin America, blacks and whites from the Southern states, and Asians. John Steinbeck’s works are notable in dealing with the depressed economic classes, especially migratory farmworkers. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) provides one example of proletarian literature, a sympathetic, perhaps even militant treatment of the working class.

Steinbeck’s most notable work dealing with itinerant workers, The Grapes of Wrath relates the trials of a farm family, the Joads, who are driven from their home to California. There they seek work as migrant fruit pickers. Their journey and subsequent labor are marked by death and harassment. Despite the family’s apparent defeat, Steinbeck portrays them as determined and dignified, a predominant theme in his work. Of Mice and Men (1937) was written first as a novel then produced as a play. It focuses on the friendship of two migrant workers and their ultimate defeat.

While the proletarian literature of Steinbeck and other writers of his time was grounded in the dignity and rights of the individual and his family, the explosion of Chicano literature was born in the rise of César Chávez’s United Farm Workers of America in the 1960’s. Chávez’s movement gave voice to a long-silent and impotent minority, the migratory farmworkers living in squalid, inhumane conditions, working...

(The entire section is 401 words.)