Since the Depression itself highlights the socio-economic class issues, as well as the failure of the Capitalist system, the various texts we have read have lead me to study the issue of class throughout the semester. After the past few post topics on tourism or travel in the 30’s I think that my biggest takeaway was how life on the road varied so much during these years. One of the texts even mentioned how those who were well-off didn’t really notice the repercussions of the Depression. The differences in class which were discussed throughout the semester can be seen through the various forms of travel.
The book that sticks out in my mind is of course the Grapes of Wrath which serves as the ideal representation for the lower class families in the Midwest during this time period. Travel to them was in no way a means of pleasure or a break from work in order to benefit the self psychologically. Instead, travel meant the act of survival. The roads were meant to lead them to opportunities that could allow them to make enough money to survive. In this sense the end destination was more valued than the journey itself- much like the take on travel today, although it is not for the same reasons.
The texts we have read on tourism present the concept of travel in an entirely new light- one that is optimistic and possibly, “created,” need for middle class Americans. Unlike the migrant workers in the Grapes of Wrath, travel was something that was seen as a reward from work. This optimistic view towards travel advertised America to tourists and urged them to see their country via the roadways in every state. In this aspect the road was the reason behind the travel, not the end destination.
When we looked at videos and images, the class differences can be seen first-hand. The photographs of the crowded migrant camps alongside the roadways certainly were quite a contrast to roadside cottages that were popular for tourists during this time. When I watched It Happened One Night the concept of class was even more prevalent. Instead of the Hoovervilles seen in Grapes of Wrath, the main characters stayed in cottages with multiple beds, an eating area, and restrooms. The knowledge I had of the rail riders and migrant workers allowed me to see the major difference in travel for the poor compared to the movie’s characters.
In my previous post, I began to find a connection between the United States promotional efforts of tourism in the 30’s to strategizing how to fix the country during the Great Depression. My thoughts that the US was attempting to use tourism in a way that would appear psychologically beneficial to race while it is actually a way to fix the flaws in the system is discussed throughout the American Guide Series text. Similar to what I said before, Andrew Gross explicitly mentions the overall goal of producing mass consumption through tourism. During this time period, the countries struggling economic state was finding its way to be jump started through tourism efforts. The guide books were structured in a way that advertised the country and generated interest amongst US citizens. The result? Just like advertising today, people become intrigued, and will decide whether to purchase the product or not. In this case the product being advertised is tourism, and the nation’s citizens quickly fell for the advertising as they became part of the mass consumption of life on the road.
As the American Guide Series mentions, the automobile was the gateway to creating the mass consumption the government wished during the 1930’s. After buying an automobile, travel requires food, supplies, lodging, and various other “needs” the consumer will spend money their money on during any trip. The entire act of tourism during this time seems to be solely based on the nation’s needs for profits. After reading this, I would not be surprised to hear critique towards the government as it exploited its country as a product and persuaded US citizens to buy into it. Still, I don’t think tourism is necessarily a bad thing. No matter what, the US will continue to thrive on mass consumption, and the government’s choice to promote the nation in this way is just another way of attempting to fix the economics behind everything.
I also looked through parts of the New England Guidebook. The guidebook is separated into various regions in New England, highlighting the differences amongst the different areas. While it is true, New England has everything from mountains and forest, to beaches, my guess would be that the decision to put New England in one book is to get people to travel around versus only stopping in one area. The guidebook reads almost as a history and geography of the land with a travel itinerary hidden within. What I found even more surprising was the length of it. When I heard guidebook I never would have thought that it would be almost two hundred pages in length. I think that the posters I have seen done by the WPA for tourism are more focused on advertising than the individual guide books. Instead the guidebooks seem to be the next step in the marketing process as once the consumer is interested in traveling to a specific location, the guidebook then serves as a way to plan the trip that advertising has persuaded them to take.
In all three of the texts about tourism, the, “real,” America is described as somewhat unknown. Unlike the major cities that everyone talks about, travelers were being urged to explore America in a new way- via automobile. During the 1930’s the newly developed roadways were able to get Americans to leave the small part of the country they live in and see what was actually out there. Based off these texts it seems that besides the idea of health benefits in taking a vacation, there was also largely an educational aspect that played a large part in the role of tourism.
For many Americans, going out on the road was their first time truly seeing the different areas of America. As we know even today, the west coast is extremely different from the northeast or even the Midwest. Wild even writes about the idea of seeing the real America and not just New York in his text Double Crossing America. Similarly Berkowitz describes the roadside cottages that were more popular than hotels during this time. While these cottages were not as nice, American’s didn’t care about the accommodations; their focus was only on seeing the country. Clearly the concept of finding what is truly authentic played a large role during this time. American’s were looking for a real experience that would show them Americas true colors and not what it has always been painted to be. The only way to see the authentic America was through exploration.
Tourism provided the ideal way to discover the true America and the government clearly was aware of this based off of the campaigns and various promotion for tourism during this time period. Berkowitz even states how they wished to, “provide our residents with urge to travel, widening their viewpoint and stimulating a real curiosity about the rest of America,” (195). The focus tourism was truly a strategic move from the government during the Great Depression.
The text’s also mentioned how the urge to take off time from one’s job during a period of economic hardship is quite contradictory. Still, educating the American people on their own country is definitely one way to create awareness as well as a sense of pride for their homeland during these hard times. Since Americans are likely struggling to see the greatness of America during its financial troubles of the Depression, urging them to go out and see the country was one way to regain hope in its citizens.
A Cool Million by Nathanael West follows a young boy named Lem from Vermont as he heads to New York City in hopes of saving enough money to pay his mother’s mortgage before the house is foreclosed. The theme we have discussed throughout the semester of being, “down and out,” is prevalent throughout the book as Lem encounters some of the worst luck possible. The part I found most interesting was the placement of the character named, “Nathan Shagpoke Whipple.” Mr. Whipple, the former president of the United States represents the constant narrator for current politics in America. As Lem travels throughout the book, Shagpoke reappears again and again with hopes of fixing the government. Most importantly, his view on America is what is contrasted so well within the book. As a satire, Lem’s bad luck is exaggerated to the fullest and highlights the difference between the supposed, “values,” of America and reality.
To Mr. Whipple, the American system is centered on hard work. He believes that for anyone, including Lem, all it takes to succeed in America is to devote one’s self to finding success. “This is the land of opportunity and the world is an oyster,” (West 73). Shagpoke believes that in the prime of his youth, Lem will have no difficulty in finding a way to gain the money he desires.
Surely, Lem is truly the ideal representation of the, “American boy.” As a young man leaving his hometown in Vermont, and based on the American values Mr. Whipple has highlighted, the reader would expect nothing, but the eventual success of Lem in New York City. The effort alone, during this time was expected to reap award. As the book continues, the opposite story is presented. During the depression, the American value system is completely put into question. Unlike before when anyone who worked hard would survive, now individuals are struggling across America to find work and pay regardless to their efforts.
By the end of the book Lem has lost an eye, thumb, leg, and been scalped before he is eventually assassinated. His honor is remembered through a national holiday representing all the struggles he has been through. After following the hopes of the American dream, Lem has now been rewarded with jail, poverty, violence and death, which is representative to many who were living during this period. (West 178).
After reading this I began to think about these American ideals and how many people still truly believe in them today. As time goes by, the concept of working hard and succeeding is becoming harder to believe in a capitalist society. For many people, Lem’s story may be exaggerated, but it still holds many truths. Regardless to how hard you work, our generation is more likely to understand the flaws in the system. Unlike our parents generations where jobs were more likely to come by, young adults now are plagued with debt that will affect them for the rest of their lives. While A Cool Million was written in 1931, it is definitely an interesting gaze to look through at today’s society as well.
While It Happened One Night has a plot that is similar to many romance Hollywood films today, it still has a historical element as well. The story follows a rich man’s daughter as she runs away and meets up with a reporter who is also on the road. Unlike many of the previous texts we have read that focus on the life of the, “down and out,” this movie highlights more of the middle class travel life during the depression. Unlike the Joad’s who pile into their dying car, Pete and Ellie spend the majority of their journey on a bus, which is far more comfortable than the latter. Still, the different socio-economic classes that are traveling are represented in the movie. The two hitch hike, see the men riding the rails during their journey, and even stay at the roadside camps which are far nicer the Hoovervilles described in Grapes of Wrath. During their trip they also come into contact with a boy and his mother who have spent their last few dollars on buying their bus tickets. Various situations like this arise throughout the movie that shows the different reasons for people being on the road during this time.
Ellie’s high status background highlights how different times were for each class during the Depression. Unlike The Grapes of Wrath where the Joad’s have no option, but to head to California, Ellie has voluntarily put herself in the situation. While losing all of her money was her fault, this twist in the plot puts her in a different lifestyle than she is typically used to. It seems that those who were from this socio-economic background truly have no idea what life on the roads was like. Even small parts like the food they eat come as a surprise to her as they travel.
The reporter’s character is also interesting to look at as the relationship between the two unfolds. From the moment the two meet, he is constantly helping her. While the relationship is meant to be two people from different classes who eventually fall in love, he comes off as somewhat of a father figure during the beginning. Without him, she would not survive and would have had to call her father far sooner. This situation gave me that idea that Ellie is representing the ignorance that can exist amongst the rich. While Pete is not suffering as bad as some who are on the road, his lifestyle is largely contrasted against what Ellie is used to. As they travel he actually becoming her teacher as he shows and explains everything to her along the way. While Ellie’s dad is a famous Wall Street Man who one would assume to be intelligent, Ellie lacks the street smarts the people on the road have. This concept relates to the idea of traveling being an educating experience for some. Those who chose to travel during this time were going out to see America, and learning about themselves along the way. Ellie seems to be the cliche version of this put into a motion picture.
Exodus Inverted: A New Look at the Grapes of Wrath states how at the end of the novel, “An additional plot problem arises from the fact that the Joads never actually attain the promised land by the novel’s close; their material situation is in every regard worse, “(Eckert 341). This point stuck out to me as a reader because in typical fiction works the reader is given some sort of resolution at the end of the story. I certainly didn’t expect things to magically become resolved, but in this case the family’s situation wasn’t even improved in the slightest. Instead the book leaves the reader with the Joad’s house flooding, and Rose of Sharon losing her baby.
My thought was that this must be a strategic move from the author. While the work is classified as fiction, the reader becomes well aware of the historical context almost immediately upon starting the book. It seems that the choice to leave the Joad family with little hope in finding a stable job could be for one reason- to make the reader realize something needed to be done for these people. While the family may be fictitious, the problems of finding jobs and wages were very real. As we have discussed journalistic writing with the purpose of creating call to action for the reader- Steinbeck seems to fit this idea. His writing is an entertaining story of one family who heads to California in search of work, but underneath the surface it highlights many of the issues facing America during the time.
The only point that seemed to connect to the idea of creating a call to action was the last scene with Tom talking to his mom out in the fields. Tom explains how he wonders why they can’t, “throw out the cops that ain’t our people,” and continues to say, “An I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together an’ yelled,” (Steinbeck 419). This short passage leaves the reader with the idea of revolution and fighting against the cops that continue to enforce a Capitalist society. If a reader is looking for some sort of conclusion to the story- Tom’s thoughts on what should be done are the only types of suggestion given. While this may be one of the few explicit mentions of a possible Communist revolution, I would think this section would be the cause for backlash from right wingers.
The Grapes of Wrath is another text that emphasizes the generosity between the poor during the time of the Depression. As we have mentioned in previous classes- the ones with the least to give were the ones who were sharing the most. This concept is brought up throughout the book as the Joad’s leave their home and head west to California. Before they are even on the road, the family has gained their son and the Preacher as two additional bodies to feed along the way. The little food they have does not stop them from accepting two more travelers. While allowing these two to join did not come as a surprise, later on in the book they meet the Wilson’s. The instant family-like relationship between the two groups emphasizes the theme of helping anyone in need. This concept of camping alongside the road really is a mini-community that is made of families all with one goal- to make it to California.
Contrary to the generosity amongst the poor, the book also describes the point of view of the car dealers. Unlike the example of the Wilson’s and Joad’s working together, the car dealers are doing all they can to take advantage of the migrants. The pricing of the cars are strategic in convincing the people with little to no money that they’re getting a deal. It capitalizes on the fact that without a car these families will not be able to make it out to California. While many of the texts we have read have highlighted the lack of sympathy towards those struggling during this time period, this example goes one step further in using these people perhaps as a way to symbolize the Capitalist way.
Additionally, the reoccurring negative view towards the cops is also prevalent in this text. As the family travels west, it’s a known fact that the cops want to make all of the migrant families get out of their towns. The cops serve as constant threats for the families to keep moving instead of settling down in these towns along the way.
Within the first half of the text, both of the grandparents have died. The part that I found most important was when the mother doesn’t tell that the grandma has died until hours later. While usually when someone dies, everything is dropped to focus on taking care of the funeral, etc. In this case, not even the death of a family member can stop these people. Stopping for the death of one, could actually result in the death of more family members due to the lack of supplies that they have. When the mother waits to tell about the Grandma’s death, she realizes that the importance of continuing on is far greater than stopping for a burial. To me, this scene seemed to put into perspective how much these migrant families were struggling. With so many people traveling together, one day can make an entire difference on making it to California before starving to death.
While reading Evan’s text I noticed the focus on how truly odd it is that these people were being studied during the depression in photo form. The text describes it as, “prying intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings,” (Evans). This quotation is from a paragraph that really centers in on how journalism can be viewed in an entirely negative light. While journalists were able to create a call to action for middle class Americans through their photographs of the Depression, ultimately they are profiting off of studying and promoting the hard times these people were going through. While creating these picture and text books, the journalists really have to be weary of the fine line between exploiting the subjects and educating middle class Americans on the Depression happening throughout the country. I would say the main theme in this text is the amount of power a journalist had during this time period. Their job is to effectively communicate a message to an audience that in this case is the exact opposite of the subject in their text. I also think it would be interesting to find out if there were many people who refused to have their photos taken.
Most of the photos from this text reminded me of Dorothy Lange’s work in a sense as it seemed to real just focus on the individuals. The photos do not give a feeling of despair, nor hopelessness. Instead, most feature people directly gazing into the camera, for the most part children with little focus on the environment surrounding them. The photos seem to be very simple and realistic, not like they have a bigger agenda than appears.
In the other section, the book begins with the title Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. My interpretation of the title was by connecting it to the people in the photos. The conflict in social classes during the depression between the wealthy and the poor who we see in the photos is mentioned here when it refers to the rich. I think the famous men the title is referring to are the nameless men, women, and children featured in the photos. The photographs represent, “fame,” but only through their depiction of the depression. Fame seems to refer to the photos ability to show the lives of Americans during the depression to the middle class. The popularity of these photos I believe is what gives praise to the subjects for surviving during the Depression.
Photography is described as the, “most influential public medium and public art form during the 1930’s,” (Caldwell 6). I am not surprised by this, as photos seem to be the only way to truly get to the heart of the depression. While journalists were frequently writing about the struggles of American’s during the thirties, the usage of photography adds an entirely new understanding on the time period. In my opinion, photography’s role in the depression was really to show the truth. A writer can write whatever they decide, but a photo is the most accurate way to show what was happening across America. Photos of the depression also create a more unique way to look back upon the period, especially for those of us who were born long after. Reading about something that happened almost a century ago can be hard to comprehend. Through photos, the reader is given a deeper and more emotional understanding of this nation-wide event.
For authors during this time, the camera became their own, “visual diary,” (Fisher 6).
While previous journalists studied the people and their surroundings through their own words, taking photos created a new way to study and describe their account. Photography seems to have a created a way to reveal an entirely new level of depth to understanding the Depression.
Still, as much as photos can portray to a reader, the selection of photographs used in the books are equally as important. Only choosing certain photos can still create a bias and specific look towards the Depression. It is up to the author to get photos of all different people, not just one group, as well as cover the different regions of America. Dorothy Lange seems to understand the research involved with this process, as she compiled her book.
In An American Exodus, Dorothy Lange combines photos from her travel across the America’s in the thirties with quotations from the subjects of the photos. The structure of this book I believe is largely connected to the time period. The only way to get out and see what was going on in America was to travel and see for yourself or read of the journalistic accounts from those who were out on the road. While Dorothy’s book is from the view point of a journalist, her decision to include a photo with direct quotes is the closest way to truthfully portray the people she chose as subjects. For journalists who wrote about their travels, for the most part they are able to use their own influence over the work, therefore creating somewhat of a bias for readers. In the case of An American Exodus¸ Dorothy has allowed her readers to create and decide the stories of these people instead of giving an already digested account from her point of view. It seems that her depiction of these people is far more raw and representative of America, than some of the other authors we have read. The usage of photos and quotes gives the book a historical account combined with a far more unbiased and personal level than the other sources we have read.
In the beginning of Sister of the Road the character describes how over the course of her life she has been taught to think of nothing being terrible or vulgar (Reitman, 7). This quote largely reminded me of all three texts as the authors relayed events that happened on the trains. From rats, to cops, to people dying the lifestyle of these homeless people traveling across the country seems to keep nothing off limits. After months on the road, or even years for many, I would assume one would lose the ability to be phased by most if not anything. In class we discussed how travel is said to change a person based off of all the experiences and interactions they will have on their journey. In most cases these days that idea can be questioned, but for the people who were riding the rails across the countries in the thirties I can’t imagine how they couldn’t change as a person. Unfortunately, I think the change came in a negative form, as these people were forced to see the cruel side of humanity.
The other point I found interesting while reading was the moment in Somebody in Boots when the woman at the restaurant tells him to go to the, “Jesus-Feeds-All-Mission, cause that’s where you ought to go,” (Nelson Algren, 328). After talking about missions previously in class it seems that to the middle class, the missions are the answer to the problem, but they really are blind to them. The woman who suggests the mission is the right place to be clearly has no idea what actually goes on there. Her statement implies that it’s really not her responsibility to take care of these people. It seems instead for the middle class there is faith in the government. From the perspective of those we are reading about, their view on the government is the opposite. It is no surprise that to those who are, “down and out,” the government serves as no means of hope. In all of the texts the cops are busy running them out of town, and warning for them not to come back or they’ll be locked up. Ironically, when the men jump on the freight cars to leave, the cops still bother them and force them to get off. As far as relief these men really have nothing, and the mission is certainly not contributing much either.