When looking back on the Travel Habit and all the aspects of travel during the Depression that we learned about and discussed. It’s hard to think of another class that takes such a unique take on the Depression and is able to depict it in a way that clearly shows that there is a nexus between studying travel during a certain time period and having a deeper understanding of that time period. I learned a great from the assignments as well as the conversations in class.
Regarding the way we engaged the course material, I believe has definitely helped me in a few ways. When I look back on how much I’ve written on these topics, it barely scratches the surface on the amount that actually could be and actually was written on these topics. This class has helped greatly improved the conciseness of my writing in my other classes and on other assignments.
Pertaining to the photos and the photographers of the time, it was thought provoking to learn that many of the photos they took were staged to convey a certain message or to evoke a particular feeling or emotion. This is evident in Evan’s pictures in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. His photos depict an emptiness that is not only evident in the expressions on the people’s faces but also in the pictures of objects and scenery he captures.
After taking this class, I have a greater understanding of the train’s significance. It was the means of transportation of a great deal of people. Transient people during this time largely depended on the train as the means of mobility.
One part of a reading I still clearly remember is Nathan Asch account in The Road: The Search for America, where he talks about the difference between traveling by train or bus (less expensive than the train). Taking the train was a process. It was a very formal affair; people would wear their best clothes on the train. “If you get to talking to a stranger, you’re not yourself with him, you’re likely to put on airs and to lie”. Having a conversation with someone in this superficial setting wasn’t allowing the writer to “find America”. Ironically, the bus, the mode of transportation that was cramped, uncomfortable and restless, was the ideal place to have genuine conversations with people about where they’ve gone and where they’re going. I think about this passage every time I am on the bus around the city or when I take the train home to Massachusetts.
An enormous lesson I took away from this class was that not everyone felt the effects of the Depression equally. The PBS video I watched show that this was extremely evident in society at the time. Even after the first year of the Depression, Henry Ford still made $30 million dollars. President Hoover, an individual who had never missed a meal while in office, was hesitant and basically against handing out relief and aid to those who were suffering. Washington D.C. knew of what was happening across the country, but after the Bonus Army marched on Washington to demand their Bonus pay, that’s when D.C. realized that the Depression was real.
What is most striking about the Guides, if only because it has been consistently overlooked is the way they appropriate commercial forms of representation for government purposes. The American Guide Series is propaganda, but not in the banal sense of representing history from a pro-government perspective. Rather it transforms local culture into a tourist attraction, and the tourist attraction into a symbol of national loyalty, in order to reproduce patriotism as a form of brand name identification.
The state guides I chose to focus on were Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I am from Massachusetts and travel across the state a fair amount. Choosing New Hampshire was mainly because one, I live right on the Massachusetts/ New Hampshire border, two, I went to school for much of my life there, and lastly because while growing up, many of my family vacations would be to the White Mountains.
After reading the article and then both of the State Guides, I wasn’t too surprised to see that the government touched on every little tidbit of scenery. It was nice to picture life growing up driving through the towns they accurately described. In many ways, while I felt connected to home, when I finished looking at the guides, all I could think was that they sold the state of Massachusetts or New Hampshire pretty well.
The Guide depicted both states, without saying it, as stereotypical New England states. Massachusetts recreational activities were basically golfing, hiking and yachting, two of which I rarely do and yachting, which I’ve never participated in. And in New Hampshire hiking, skiing and other things someone who’s not from the state would imagine doing there were outlined in the Guide.
The Guide figures tourists as the consummate experts. Inhabitants, on the other hand, are often depicted as ignorant or prejudiced.
This statement describes the way in which the Arizona guidebook appears to be presented. Whether they tried to depict all the Guides that way, or if it’s unique to Arizona, I didn’t feel that way at all when flipping through both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Guides.
The tour form helps transform community from a locus of tradition to a locus of consumption.
Many places that I knew of that were mentioned in the Guides didn’t at all resonate with me at all. Places that I knew that were places of attraction were of no surprise. Further aspects of the major highways and routes that pass through Massachusetts and New Hampshire were interesting to think about. This is mainly due to those roads being the main commuter roads or the roads that get tourists to all the destinations that were mentioned in some way.
Like the article says, tourists are the paradigmatic consumers… The Guides utilize a language of nostalgia and consumption that appeals to a large audience. It’s safe to say that the way I talked about Massachusetts and New Hampshire is evidence that I fell into their audience of someone who’d be sold by reading these guides.
Roland Wild’s Double-Crossing America primarily focuses on travel and comfort. However, one part in particular reminded me of American Road Trip, which we read a few weeks back. The author in Double-Crossing America writes that he his goal and desire is to travel to San Francisco. While in New York City, he goes on to say that, “I would then be a traveler who had been to New York, but not America.”
This perception of New York separate from America resurfaces when the author of American Road Trip writes how they were looking for America and thought they had found it on multiple occasions, but really they had not. When they were in New York, they had thought they had started to understand America, but were told New York isn’t really America; it’s just the bridge between America and Europe. This was interesting due to the perceptions of America people outside the country have juxtaposed to how those living in America view the country.
In the end, for those in Double-Crossing America, once they got on the road, the desire to see San Francisco seemed like and after thought due to their narrow focus on making the trailer comfortable. The author writes that comfort was achieved at the expense of missing everything there was to see while driving across America.
Next, in Being Elsewhere, the author poses a thought-provoking question at the beginning. “Why did a period of drastically declining national income and the profound need to create work coincide with the development of new leisure practices, especially that of mass tourism?” A fact that I found interesting while reading this was that from around 1900 to 1935 vacation expenditures rose during the 1920’s and continued to increase during the first 6 years of the Depression.
“During the remaining Depression years, the paid vacation became an institutionalized feature of the American labor relations.” As a result o f the increase of paid vacations, there was a desire to travel. The task of promoting the “travel habit” was in full swing.
The marketing of the United States as a commodity and tourism as an industry was apparent in community promotion. Community promotion was vital to people’s desire to travel. Communities promoted attractive features of their areas in efforts to attract those on vacation and ultimately benefit economically from it. Due to the increase in communities marketing themselves to those on vacation one big strategy that was utilized during this time were travel guidebooks. They had one for each state. This was of advertisement ensured that people on vacation could travel to the “must see” spots in a certain state. It ultimately takes away from experiencing a state’s unique culture.
A Cool Million by Nathaniel West is a grim story of Lemuel Pitkin and his pursuit of fortune. The protagonist, Lemuel, encounters hardship in his pursuit of the American dream. He is physically torn apart, battered and bruised, robbed and deceived time and time again. Upon finishing, it makes a lot of sense why the book is subtitled The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin.
As I read the beginning part of the book, I figured it is going to be a feel-good story of a teenager embarking on a journey for wealth in order to better his situation. I figured things would only get better once Lem got on the bus to NYC, however, that is when the onslaught of unfortunate events began and preceded to persist and loom over Lem like a rain cloud that followed him endlessly. While reading, it becomes apparent of West’s incorporation of various symbolisms.
The Horatio Alger “rags to riches” myth is apparent from the beginning of the story and remains a constant throughout. The Alger myth originates from Horatio Alger’s main characters in his novels overcoming poverty and suffering and achieving the American Dream. Many times, his protagonists receive guidance from and older member of society. Also, the realization of the American Dream stems, in part, from meritocracy. Meritocracy includes the notion that people ascend through the societal ranks and achieve success through merit.
Lem’s journey parallels the Alger myth. Despite Lem’s continuous dismantling, he remains eerily optimistic in his efforts to succeed in realizing the American Dream. Time and time again, he encounters Mr. Whipple and is always quick in trusting him and heeding his advice. Lem remains relentless in his efforts to achieve the American Dream, but because he is all to trusting of all he encounters, he never could conform to the “American way of life”. He never fully grasped the idea of individualism and the individual pursuit of success. Because of this, Lem’s dream to ascend from rags to riches remained only a dream.
Trust is another theme that is prevalent throughout the novel. Lem is blinded by his trustworthy nature that countless times in the story he is deceived, however, that doesn’t really seem to deter him from trusting the next person that he comes across.
When I moved to Chicago for college, I was coming from a rural, New England, farm town. I was very quick to trust people. However, I learned very quickly that maintaining a certain level of privacy and alertness especially in a place like Chicago that that would be the difference between being aware of my surroundings and being blinded by acceptance of people at first glance. In that regard, I could relate to Lem very much. Even when I moved to New York, I encountered the same friendliness that Lem did, however, while people were very individualistic during the time this book was written, people are much more private now than they were back then.
The PBS documentary mini-series, The Great Depression (1993), uses newsreels, archival photographs and footage, Hollywood films, and eyewitness accounts to re-create the time, just prior to the Depression and right before the beginning of World War II.
Episode 1 of the mini-series focuses on Henry Ford’s ascension, his Detroit industrial factory plant, The Rogue, as well as the effect it had on the community. “Just before the advent of the Great Depression, Henry Ford controlled the most important company in the most important industry in the booming American economy” (IMDB, The Great Depression). During the 1920’s, the employees at Ford felt great pride in the fact they were a part of the company and employed at the Rouge. Many from all over migrated to Detroit in efforts to land a job on the Rouge’s assembly line. As said in the documentary, the 1929 stock market crash didn’t cause the Depression, but it sent a fearful message that the boom would bust. Finally, in the spring, consumption severely declined. This eventually took its toll on the Rouge and in 1931 the Ford factory halted production, which led to 60,000 laid off manufacturer workers joining the 100,000 people already on the streets. Tensions flared at this time. Unemployment councils arose out of the ethnic neighborhoods and associations organized by the communist party to aid the unemployed surfaced.
The subsequent episode spotlights the Great Depression’s impact on rural America, the increase of robberies during the time, the Bonus Army, and culminates with FDR’s winning the presidential election. For me, many of the previous readings as well as images of this time resonated with me when the interviewees that shared their first-hand accounts of the devastation that the Depression had on crops. There were, however, aspects of the sharecroppers and farmers experience that I didn’t know anything about prior to the documentary.
The readings we have focused on this far have depicted the Depression from the point of view, fact or fiction, of those witnessing the impact the Depression while traveling across the country. The people that felt the Depression just as much as anyone else were the military veterans of World War I. In May of 1932, some 15,000 veterans, many unemployed and destitute, descended on Washington, D.C. to demand immediate payment of their bonus, which they were set to receive in 1945. The veterans set up Anacostia, one of the most famous Hoovervilles, across the river from the nation capitol at this time as well. Unfortunately, their efforts ended in major disappointed with the Bonus Bill being voted down by the Senate. Additionally, the Attorney General ordered the evacuation of the veterans, also known as the Bonus Army, from the capitol immediately.
An enormous lesson I took away from these videos was that, as said many times throughout class, not everyone felt the effects of the Depression equally. Even after the first year of the Depression, Henry Ford still made $30 million dollars. President Hoover, an individual who had never missed a meal while in office, was hesitant and basically against handing out relief and aid to those who were suffering. Washington D.C. knew of what was happening across the country, but after the Bonus Army marched on Washington to demand their Bonus pay, that’s when D.C. realized that the Depression was real.
A reoccurring theme that I noticed from past readings was the increase in public opinion of the communist party throughout that period. In Addition to aiding the unemployment councils in Detroit, they were very much a presence in Anacostia during the veteran’s demonstrations.
The second episode of the documentary concludes with FDR praying that he finds the strength to embark on the uphill battle of fighting the Depression. That part showed me that although FDR was hesitant in his ability to fight the effects of the Depression, he was still far more cognizant than Hoover of the fact that the Depression was as damaging as it appeared.
In the second half of Grapes of Wrath I focused on the experiences Tom and his family had in the Hooverville camp in chapter 20 and the completely difference they had at another camp later in chapter 22.
Just to back track a little, chapter 19, for me, described a generalized version of what chapter 20 talks about in terms of the police in the camps acting in an authoritarian-like manner.
In the first camp tom and his family arrive in it is dirty, everyone is hungry and there is absolutely no work for anyone. Anyone who attempts to organize if dragged of by the police. Basically this keeps the people in the camp in a perpetual state of destitution. Intense events unfold in the chapter leading the sheriff to announce that the camp is going to be destroyed as consequence.
“The movement changed them” (362). Chapter 21 notes that basically every factor that contributed to them being in their current state of migration and penury united them and brought them all together as migrants in the same situations due to similar circumstances. This part is where I could see where people could have interpreted as communist because following the migrants coming together and uniting, it then talks about property owners fearing for they see the “flare” in the migrants eyes. The landowners acknowledge that that “flare” is a major threat to the status quo. There were, however, groups of people that did what they could to repress the migrant’s ascension out of destitution.
In the next camp Tom and the family arrives in; it is a complete 180-degree flip from the first camp. It is a welcoming place, no police presence, and it is clean. Tom comes across a fellow who potentially could line him up with a job. The camp manager makes Ma feel human again. The overall environment of this camp, in my opinion, appears to depict what camps would more or less look like if they were self-governed by migrants as opposed to the repressive and corrupt governance of the police.
This second camp compliments the previous chapter in that is stresses unity and togetherness. The first camp evoked an individualistic/ protectionist, dog-eat-dog kind of environment that drains people’s hope for anything much better than their current state of destitution. The second camp revitalized the optimism in those that live there as well as acts as a medium in which Tom and the family’s optimism is regained.
The first chapter in Grapes of Wrath describes the Dust Bowl and its detrimental effects on the land. It also introduces family dynamics of those affected by pervasiveness of the dust. The men stood silently looking out on to their ruined crops, the women stood by the men, examining how the men are feeling, and the children drew in the dust near by, wondering.
In a way, I see Grapes of Wrath as pressures that continuously accumulated one after another for tenet farmers at this time.
After setting the scene in chapter 1, one theme that I noticed was that of a protectionist/ family focused mindset. This was very much present in chapter 5 when the farmers are angry when they are evicted because the landowner isn’t yielding a big profit from the land. The farmers ask the owner where to go, what to do for work, and how to survive. The owner says to travel towards California, which is something that has appeared in other readings we’ve had. It brings up the idea that maybe things will be better out in California, maybe the American dream will be actualized. The Landowners doesn’t want to evict them, but in order to keep the bank happy, he needs.
When the tractors show up later to plow the land, the farmers accuse the tractor driver of betraying all the farmers and putting them and their families out on the street. The tractor driver says that he doesn’t give it much thought, he just thinks about being able to provide for his family. The driver also says that times are changing and that you can’t make a living on the land if you don’t have the necessary equipment. Basically, there’s no point in getting mad at the tractor driver because so many other people would kill to have that job to provide for their families.
Another aspect in the first part of the book that stuck with me was the preparation they made for going to California. First, to me, the car salesmen are manipulating the people that are showing up in hopes to get a car for their journey. “Soften ‘em up… Get ‘em ready to deal, an’ I’ll close ‘em”. Those lines occurred multiple lines in chapter 7. At some degree you can’t blame the car salesmen for trying to aggressively sell their cars, but on the other hand I feel slightly annoyed that they are manipulating these people who are already going through tough times and to influence these people to get a car that they can barely afford isn’t right. This idea of something being right or not brings me back to Waiting for Nothing and the inner conflict the protagonist had on numerous occasions.
The other aspect of them preparing for California was the fact that in order to have a little money for the trip there, they needed to sell some of their things. It’s hard to think that things family members held dear as having sentimental value could be exchanged for a monetary amount. For those who did have to part with sentimental items, it makes me think, did they sell those items reluctantly, or did they have it in their minds that selling these sentimental items are vital to getting to California and a potentially a better life?
Reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is at times very difficult to follow. The best way to describe this book is how James Agee states it, “This volume is designed to do two things: as the beginning of a larger piece of work; and to stand itself, independent of any such further work as may be done” (xiv). This book achieves that. It achieves that intention. While it depicts the Depression with images like American Exodus and You Have Seen Their Faces, the text in Evan and Agee’s book aren’t captions, but rather an actual story. This aspect gives it the freedom to stand on its own. The structure also allows it be incorporated in a larger body of work.
Agee continues to describe other intentions he has for the reader such as reading it aloud and to ”be read continuously, as music is listened to, or a film watched, with brief pauses only where they are self-evident” (xv). I would say reading the book quietly and stepping away from it for a little bit didn’t allow it to fully resonate with me the way they had intended it to resonate with readers. This could possibly explain why it was difficult to read.
The more I think about it and the more pictures from the Depression that I look at, I now see why many were skeptical that some pictures from this period didn’t look like the total truth. Like many of them were staged to convey a certain message or to evoke a particular feeling or emotion. For me, Evan’s pictures depict an emptiness that is not only evident in the expressions on the people’s faces that he photographs but also in the pictures of objects and scenery he captures.
It’s interesting that while Evan’s intended to resist any politics being involved during this project. As Paula Rabinowitz says in her article, “Voyeurism and Class Consciousness: James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, “By bringing the images of daily life and ordinary people into public view, photography remakes vision and in so doing produces (or reproduces) new forms of (class) consciousness” (1). In my opinion, it conveyed a political message in that it was depicting the harsh reality affecting so many that the middle class wasn’t totally informed on.
The Civil War was in the recent past and WWII and the Cold War were in the near future. The Depression was a point in time in which many attempted to find America, or at least accurately depict the nation. Many writers’ account their travels across America during the Depression observing regions where its effects pervaded and where they did not.
“An American Exodus” and “You Have Seen their Faces” reminded me of a concept that I recently learned about in my Latin American Politics class: extractive economic institutions. I won’t go into much detail about the theory behind the concept, but will briefly relate it to those two readings. Extractive institutions are established in society when power is centralized in the hands of the few, and the many are exploited as well as the land and resources. The context in which I learned of extractive institutions pertained to the idea that during the colonization of the Americas, European explorers came to the New World with the idea that they would just sit back and accumulate wealth by coercing indigenous people or importing slaves to extract resources that the explorers could bring back to Europe. In many parts of the New World that was exactly what happened.
In the case of the South, slave labor was the primary method in which plantation owners would exploit the labor force as well as try to make money off of cotton. Extractive institutions are only sustainable for so long before there is nothing left to extract from the land. In the case of the European explorers during colonization, they would extract what resources they could, then return to Europe not feeling the lingering effects of draining the New World of those resources. At a basic level, where the plantation system was the primary extractive institution during colonization, sharecropping appeared like the main method used during the Depression to extract resources. However, the main difference is that the field owners employing sharecroppers lived on the land they were exploiting as opposed to the explorers who only remained in the exploited areas for a short period of time. While the sharecroppers were most affected by these extractive institutions, the field owners, who were supposed to only benefit from those methods, were somewhat feeling its negative effects as well.
Additional aspects of the reading that stuck out were most apparent in the piece, “American Road Trip”. First, its authors were from the Soviet Union. During the time of the Depression that wouldn’t have been a big deal because it was prior to Stalin as well as the Cold War; however, I found it interesting that prior to reading the whole piece, I still immediately assumed the piece was going to be written from a point of view that just focused on the detrimental effects of capitalism. The other interesting aspect was how the authors thought they had found America on multiple occasions, but were told by locals that they weren’t really in the America the authors were looking for.
When they were in New York, they had thought they had started to understand America, but were told New York isn’t really America; it’s just the bridge between America and Europe. Again, they thought they were beginning to understand America when in DC or Connecticut, but were told they still weren’t experiencing America. This was interesting due to the perceptions of America people outside the country have juxtaposed to how those living in America view the country.
Similarly to the discussion we had in class today about the idea that Kromer’s novel, Waiting for Nothing, having biographical elements in it, that seemed apparent in Nelson Agren’s novel, Somebody in Boots, and also in Woody Guthrie’s novel, Bound for Glory. I’m not sure how much of these novels are autobiographical, but to some degree they both evoke that feeling.
In the foreword of Edward Anderson’s, Hungry Men, one idea really stuck with me. It was the idea that transient people during this time largely depended on the train as the means of mobility.
Agren and Guthrie’s novels both described the feelings associated with hunger. The way in which Agren described hunger sheds more light on certain aspects that the other class readings didn’t touch on. One thing for example, although probably not the largest or most important detail was the fact that the city sprayed open garbage and garbage cans with oil once a week to deter the poor from going through it for food.
Also, the church plays a role in the topic of hunger in a few ways. Prior to reading any accounts on the Depression, I would think the church or missions would be places where those who have fallen on hard time could go and not have to sit through mass or do manual labor to either receive shelter for the night, or a single meal. Additionally, I was shocked when reading Bound for Glory when Woody goes up to the church in the “good part of town” and is turned away. This could just be a superficial way to look at it, but the idea of the church or mission expecting compensation for food shelter, or even just turning a group of people away, seems counterintuitive to its beliefs and what it tries to convey.
An aspect of Bound for Glory that occurred multiple times where advice was given to Woody. In this case, the advice could also be seen as a warning. When the old man was telling Woody what part of town to stay clear of and what part of town to go to find a meal was very interesting to me. In a way, Woody doing the opposite of what the old man said- staying clear of the “good part of town”- was hard to understand. Furthermore, when the minister’s maid turned Woody away when he inquired about work that, in my mind, went against what ministers preach. Finally, the advice/ warning the cop gave Woody, in terms of telling him to get on his way because he’d either starve to death or get thrown in jail, stayed true to the view that at that time people who had lost their job and or money from the effects of the Depression were automatically written off as criminals and troublemakers.