The Plum Plum Pickers

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

The Work

Set in California’s Santa Clara County during the summer and fall harvest season, The Plum Plum Pickers takes place in and around the fictional town of Drawbridge and more specifically at the Western Grande Company’s migrant housing project. The novel presents the dehumanized conditions of the mostly Mexican plum plum, or prune, pickers at the hands of the fruit company representatives, Mr. Quill, the grounds boss, and his superior and company owner, Mr. Turner. The squalor of the migrant camps is a major element of the narrative and enhances the brutalized relations between not only Anglo bosses and Mexican laborers but also between different groups within the farmworkers’ Mexican community. The harsh reality of conditions is brought to the forefront in large part by the contrapuntal techniques employed in the narrative (which allow for contrasting views of the same topic) and the frequent attributing of animal qualities to individual characters.


Barrio published The Plum Plum Pickers privately in 1969. Its publication coincided with the unionizing activities of César Chávez, and the book appeared to illustrate the very conditions that Chávez sought to improve. The book was therefore an immediate popular success, although it received little critical attention, perhaps because of the poor quality of print and paper employed in its first printing. The novel has since maintained its position as one of the key novels of the Chicano movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. A major reason is Barrio’s use of an unusual narrative form, which incorporates such items as newspaper...

(The entire section is 686 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Geuder, Patricia A. “Address Systems in The Plum Plum Pickers.” Aztlán 6 (Fall, 1975): 341-346. Geuder explores the complex relationships among the Chicano pickers and between them and the Anglo bosses through a classification of the ways in which characters address one another.

Lattin, Vernon E. “Paradise and Plums: Appearance and Reality in Barrio’s The Plum Plum Pickers.” Selected Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference on Minority Studies 2 (April, 1975): 165-171. Lattin argues that the essential tension in the novel, both within the characters and between them, is the juxtaposition of the bountiful landscape against the squalid realities of the pickers’ existence, supporting this thesis through analysis of Barrio’s techniques of characterization and symbolism.

Lomelí, Francisco A. “Depraved New World Revisited: Dreams and Dystopia in The Plum Plum Pickers.” Introduction to The Plum Plum Pickers. Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Press, 1984. Lomelí extends and elaborates Lattin’s premises by detailing the living conditions of migrants and the self-deceiving strategies of both Chicanos and Anglos.

McKenna, Teresa. “Three Novels: An Analysis.” Aztlán 1 (Fall, 1970): 47-56. Although minimal in its assessment, McKenna’s study does seek to place Barrio’s novel in the historical moment. She notes the promise of social realism to detail migrant conditions and comments on the aesthetic difficulties in reading the work, implying that Barrio’s novel may suffer from its aesthetic experiments.

Miller, Yvette, E. “The Social Message in Chicano Fiction: Tomas Rivera’s And the Earth Did Not Part and Raymond Barrio’s The Plum Plum Pickers.” Selected Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference on Minority Studies 2 (April, 1975): 159-164. An interesting comparison of the different ways in which the two authors approach social issues and protest.

Ortego, Philip D. “The Chicano Novel.” Luz 2 (May, 1973): 32-33. Ortego claims that Barrio mediates his social protest with fantasy constructions that collapse back into social realities. He notes the dilemma of the Chicano writer in finding a medium between Spanish and English, applauding Barrio’s ability to shape both into a coherent fictive whole. He also realizes that Barrio has established a new artistic direction for the Chicano novel.