Getting Ready to Read The Grapes of Wrath

The wind always blows in Oklahoma, but that wasn't a problem until about 1930 when a major drought started. Suddenly the rain stopped falling.

Before the small farmers plowed up the land, there was grass which held the top soil in place and which soaked up any rain that fell so that the ground remained healthy and the water wells on the farms kept giving sweet water to drink even in periods of drought. But when the farmers plowed up all the prairie to plant crops, trouble was on the way.

When the six-year-long drought hit in 1930, the land dried out, the farmers' wells went dry, the crops died, and the eternal prairie wind started blowing away the top soil. Major dust storms formed, at first black with airborne top soil and later grayish with the sun-baked dust.

One by one, but very rapidly, the farmers defaulted on their bank loans and mortgages when their crops failed year after year, and the banks started foreclosing on the farms and evicting tens of thousands of people from land they and their parents and grand-parents had lived on for generations.

These thousands of evicted people had no place to go. What made matters worse was that this all occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930's. There were no jobs for all these displaced people. Starting over at a new occupation in those days was nearly impossible.

So many thousands of these people from Oklahoma hit the road, headed west for California, where they thought there was a better life to be had. They became known as "Okies." Other parts of the Midwest suffered, but the state of Oklahoma became the worst case scenario of what was known as "the Dust Bowl."

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath shows how horrible this Dust Bowl situation was, and the images below will help you visualize what is going on in the story.

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