“The Harvest” is divided into seven short sections. It is set somewhere in the Midwest at the end of September and the beginning of October. The unnamed narrator, a migrant farm worker, thinks this is the best time of year because the work is nearly over and he and his fellow workers will soon be able to return to Texas. Then the main character, Don Trine, is introduced. He walks through the fields every afternoon, and he prefers to do this alone, becoming angry if anyone tries to accompany him.
The next section is a dialogue between a group of unnamed workers, who work alongside Don Trine. They discuss the possible reasons for Trine’s walks, which puzzle them. One says that it is Trine’s business what he does; another thinks it is strange that he walks alone.
Next, the narrator reports on how the rumors about Trine spread. Some of his fellow workers have tried to spy on him, but he would get wise to what was happening and turn around and go back to his chicken coop. Soon people began to say that he was hiding the money he earned or that he had found buried treasure and was bringing it back to the coop little by little. There were other rumors about Trine, too, all of them centered on the idea that he must have money.
The reasoning behind the idea that Trine was secretly wealthy was that he was an old bachelor, had been working for many years, and had nothing to spend his money on. He only bought food and an occasional beer.
The young workers closely follow Trine on his walks, noting the route he takes and where he would disappear and linger. He seems to spend time around a ditch that crossed the west field. The boys decide to investigate the ditch the following Saturday. But when they do so, they find nothing in the ditch. They do, however, discover a number of holes a foot deep in the field.
They speculate about what might have caused the holes. Trine must have dug them, they conclude, but what was he hiding? They find a coffee can and decide that this is what Trine uses to dig the holes.
Late the following Monday, the boys find out the truth. They manage to fool Don Trine and observe what he does. They are correct that Trine digs the holes with the coffee can. From time to time he measures the depth of the hole by thrusting his arm into it, up to the elbow. He remains in this position for some while, even trying, unsuccessfully, to light a cigarette with one hand. Then Trine digs another hole and thrusts his arm into it in exactly the same way as before. The boys are mystified. They return to their co-workers and report what they have seen. Everyone else is mystified, too. They had all assumed that the holes had something to do with money. Since this has been shown to be incorrect, they think that Trine must be crazy and forget about him. One boy, however, remains curious. The next day he goes to a field and does exactly what he had observed Trine do the previous day. He finds that feeling the earth around his arm is a pleasurable sensation such as he has never felt before. He realizes that Trine is not crazy; he simply likes to feel the earth when it is sleeping. After this, the boy keeps going to the field every afternoon until a freeze comes and it is too hard to dig. Then he thinks with pleasant anticipation of the following October when he will once again be able to repeat the process.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Tomas Rivera, Published by Gale, 2002.