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The Grapes Of Wrath: Connections To The Great Depression

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The Grapes of Wrath: Connections to the Great Depression

The decaying state of the American economy and the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s brought about the necessity for the United States to reconsider its attitudes and examine the long term effects of its policies concerning wide-scale socioeconomic problems that were constantly growing bigger. The Great Depression led to the creation of many new and innovative government policies and programs, along with revisions to older economic systems. However, these cost the government billions of dollars in a country that had consistently been stretching the gap between the rich and poor. This continued as the Great Depression began to change everything people had grown old knowing, and it forced everyone to deal with dramatic alterations to their lives that left them with no options except acceptance. America then witnessed the mass migration of farmers from the Dust Bowl out to the west towards California and the required intervention by the federal government in stepping up and taking responsibility for the socioeconomic issues plaguing the disintegrating nation. This was profoundly illustrated throughout John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

The incredibly unequal distribution of wealth that took place throughout the 1920s managed to grow even worse during the Great Depression and the 1930s. Despite how there was technically a very small fraction of people that were financially stable, there was a gigantic underclass in the U.S. that had practically nothing. "During the worst years of the Depression, 1933-34, the overall jobless rate was twenty-five percent with another twenty-five percent of breadwinners having their wages and hours cut. Effectively, then, almost one out of every two U.S. households directly experienced unemployment or underemployment." Hence, there were barely any Americans that were able to benefit from the economic progress/advances of the 1920s.The administrations of presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover and their policies of laissez-faire that they sincerely supported played a significant part in influencing the financial gap between the American people. They all favored big business and the wealthy who chose to invest in these companies, not the common man. "Andrew Mellon, Coolidge's Secretary of the Treasury, was the main force behind these and other tax cuts throughout the 1920's. In effect, he was able to lower federal taxes such that a man with a million-dollar annual income had his federal taxes reduced from $600,000 to $200,000" In 1923, the supreme court had even ruled minimum-wage legislation unconstitutional. So, the aftermath of the Great Depression yielded that many middle-class citizens and few of high financial standing lost everything they had. The already monumental lower-class was unceasingly multiplying. Although of course, there was the small number that managed to remain wealthy, but not always through fair and virtuous ways. The Great Depression could indeed be called the "great leveler" because it evened out the financial class system in a way never thought possible, where some of the rich and middle-class had become impoverished and empty-handed after being lowered to essentially the same financial level as everybody else.

This was also an unforeseen time of mass migration within the United States. People from the Great Plains (A large expanse of land that encompassed parts of Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico.) desperately sought jobs in California that had been promised to them. The Great Plains were well known for their other name, however, "The Dust Bowl". It was home to monstrous dust storms that ravaged everyone's way of life in the Midwest. It came to receive this name after the large territory was abused through poor agricultural practices like the farming and re-farming of a single particular crop on the same piece of land for years. It was also due to droughts that had been going on for many years, hence the dust storms. This unrelenting dirt and dust easily found its way into people's houses, and therefore their clothes, food, and most other things throughout the entire day, making lives utterly miserable.

"Every moving thing lifted the dust into the air: a walking man lifted a thin layer as high as his waist, and a wagon lifted the dust as high as the fence tops, and an automobile boiled a cloud behind it. The dust was long and settling back again." (Steinbeck 4)

Crops had indeed been ruined as well, and for a long while. It took many futile attempts from farmers at replanting their wheat to realize this; the earth-uprooting storms did not spare anymore crops a chance. After seeing that all efforts put into this region were proving to be in vain, farmers had decided to move out west (Mostly to California for its professed jobs and beautiful land and climate) in a struggling effort for survival. They began migrating using any jalopies or old cars that they could obtain and hopping on Route 66, which would take them where they needed to go. "The people in flight streamed out on Route 66, sometimes a single car, sometimes a little caravan. All day they rolled slowly along the road and at night they stopped near water". (Steinbeck 152) A large amount of the migrants came from the heavily dust-infested Oklahoma. Many of these unfortunate folk were looked down upon and prejudiced against because they could only pray for jobs that could give them the wages they needed to purchase food and endure. The migrant Americans, therefore, were willing to work for very little pay, which caused Californians to be given reduced wages as well. "Well, you and me got sense. Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do. A human being couldn't stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain't a hell of a lot better than gorillas."



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