The American Dream Begins

The American Dream Begins

A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin is a satirical novel written by Nathanael West. The story starts off by addressing the basic elementary entrepreneurial principles of the America Dream. Lemuel Pitkin’s can be described as a very idyllic young American. He goes to a banker and tries to ask for some money. Instead of getting money however Lemuel receives optimistic words saying that if he follows his own path, he will achieve something and capture The American Dream. Lemuel is very struck by the banker’s words and gains very high hopes for his very bright future. The bankers name is Mr. Whipple and he seems to represent the government, who tries to spread optimism and hope to the people of the United States.

Most of the story revolves around the concept of a hopeless optimism that is a constant in the characters life. At this point in the story where the characters luck begins to change. The characters blind faith in the words of Mr. Whipple and his naïve nature cause his luck to change for the worse. It is not that the character has only bad luck but the bad quickly starts to out way the good and the words of Mr. Whipple start to turn more from optimistic advice into outright lies.

The concept of the American Dream was first created in this this time period, with the creation of The New Deal. The Great Depression was the low point in the hero’s journey of America a kind of call to action for the people. Slowly towards the end of The Great Depression a few people started to get their shit together. This can be seen even when reading booking such as The Grapes of Wraith following The Joad family. In the story the family begins to realize that their work would not amount to anything unless they owned the land they were working on. They were forced to leave and migrant west because of the decision made by the landowners. This addresses the ideas of ownership in the American Dream. One of the concepts of the modern American dream today owns a home somewhere. Having a piece of the country that is owned by them. This philosophy came from the early stories of farmers wanted to own their own land. Towards the end of the novel the family’s situation becomes slightly better and there is optimism towards a better future.

Nature over Nurture

Nature over Nurture

Where Life is Better is a story by author James Rorty in which the author in a way blames the victims of The Great Depression for the condition and plight they have put themselves into. They believes that they are sitting ideally back and accepting their condition, rather then fighting for aid, and striving to find a way out. They sit back and watch things happen. Rorty is very political in his views addressed in his book and seems to be extremely critical of The New Deal and feels that it is making things worse rather then better. Rorty believes that the only way people will find a way to get out of their misery is by speaking up and demanding, rather then sitting back and taking.

In Home Country by Ernie Pyle the author spends a lot of time speaking about animals as part of the uncontrollable power of nature. He spends some time in the story speaking about vultures and grasshoppers which helps convey the theme, similar to in Where Life is Better of suffering and hopeless. A vulture is an animal that by nature is a scavenger. They feast on dead animals and represent death and misery. Grasshoppers similarly, though not as much representatives of death are insects that destroy all crops and farming land that are left behind that were not already destroyed by the dust bowls and drought plaguing this part of America during the same time period.

One Third of a Nation by Lorena Hickok is the report by a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration who’s job it was to travel around the country for the purpose of gathering information to give the administration to try to help people deal with the after effects of The Great Depression. In the report the author feel that the administration is doing al they can to try to help the people but acknowledges that perhaps all they can is not enough. She descries the fact that since the aid programs are running out of money, many families who rely on this governmental aid for basic survival are having “foodless holidays.”

All three of these stories do a good job capturing a very emotional side of the effects of The Great Depression during the early stages. The stories address the plight of the people, what the government is doing to try to help, and the people’s reactions and views on the government.

Busses are not Timeless

Busses are not Timeless

The Road by Nathan Asch is the story of the author’s journey traveling cross-country across America by bus. Nathan says, “When you decide to try to see America, you start out from a point by train or car or freight or bus and go in any possible direction – all of it is America – and stop off anywhere at all and watch people and talk to people.” The story is written in the 1930’s and the author tries to paint a very idealistic view on what the bus system was like in that time period. He talks extremely personal elements of the journey in the bus, such as flirting with the occasional stranger and causally smoking cigarettes.

Nathan Arch has come to believe prior to his journey that the only true way to travel across the United States is by the bus system. Initially in the story the author is struggling to figure out why this is the case and it is the journey itself that gets the author to realize this truth.

Nathan traveled by bus for more then four months around the country and reveals his primary reasons for believing it is the best way to travel. The reason the author chose the transportation method in the first place was because of cost. The author said he had traveled across the country before by car, train, and bus and begins to talk about what he does not like about the other ways. By car he states that, “The view is different, but the interior is the same and the only ones you get to talk to are the filling station men and traffic cops.” In terms of the train the author believes it to be too formal, “You reserve your seat, and you put on your best cloths, and you ride to a big terminal, and get on a huge train…”

Moving on to today when thinking about the bus system and the port authority, the bus terminal in New York City my stomach cringes. To me today the bus system, traveling between states is one of the least well-kept transportation systems in the country. The terminal itself is extremely unhygienic, and it would not be a shock to see one or two rodents running around the terminal. The busses itself are mostly dirty with uncomfortable chairs and a very strange order. The only advantage to the service is the cost. It is no long a romantic way to travel across the country; it is strictly a cheap way, as it was also before. The romance has migrated from busses onto trains and planes.

The Journey

The Journey

When studying The Great Depression in high school history classes I learned that it was an extremely difficult time for the country. I learnt about the causes and after effects but never focused on the actual time period. When looking at the time period in economics, I learnt more specifics about the financial causes of the depression and how World War I was the stimulation that drove the economy out of its financial troubles. Even though I spent a lot of time talking about the actual depression I never understood what people were going through. I never had an emotional connecting to the subject matter. One of my principal takeaways from this class was the fact that I finally got to learn about the human side of the great depression on a personal level. This was achieved through extremely descriptive text full of rich imagery, ethos, and catharsis. It was also achieved through beautiful powerful photography especially in Let US Now Praise Famous Men. I was also very drawn to specifically to the photograph by Dorothea Lange entitled Towards Los Angeles. Dorothea did a wonderful job in juxtaposing the new upper middle class tourism market with the plight of immigrates forced to migrate west as a result of the dust bowl.

The assigned reading I enjoyed the most was The Grapes of Wrath. I always knew it was an American classic, one of those books you are forced to read in high school that was actually good. I never had the opportunity to read it in high school, and if I choose not to take this class, I would have missed the opportunity all together.

As this semester comes to an end, I only have one more semester left in university. Looking back at my days in college the years seem to have flew by, but that seems to always be he case with nostalgia. My journey though college can be compared with Tom Joad’s journey in The Grapes of Wrath. I felt that, like Tom, I was a very dynamic character through my time here. I came to NYU having lived in one country my entire life, imprisoned metaphorically in a single mentality. As I began to explore the new cultures and ways of thinking of New York, I changed drastically, like Tom.

This was my first Gallatin class during my time at New York University and the format of the class was something extremely different from most of my courses at Stern. In business school the lectures are very structured with PowerPoint presentations, essays and exams. This was the first time I have taken a class that is so heavily discussion based, with a professor acting more like a guide then an instructor. The round table format also changed the nature of the discussion. By being less formal my fellow students and I were more comfortable speaking our mind.

West Coast, Best Coast

West Coast, Best Coast

In order to figure out which city guide I wanted to write about I looked through a few different options (Three), some, which I really liked, and some, which I felt were too focused on the history context of the city rather then focused on attracting tourism. The three, which I looked at, were New York City, Los Angeles, and Cairo, Illinois (Which compelled me because of the name) I felt that the New York City guide (Which I skimmed over) and the Cairo guide were too focused on history, while I felt the Los Angeles guide was the perfect mix of talking about tourist attractions, things to do, and beautiful scenery as well a providing information about different thriving industries in the city, predominantly film and television. I feel that since this guide was released the tourism advertising strategy for the city has remained relatively unchanged over the past 80 years.

As mentioned earlier, for the most part, the tourism guide for Cairo, Illinois was heavily focused on the history behind the city itself. Whoever wrote about it was clearly a very talented writer, and used heavy imagery to discuss the historical context. When reading it however, I felt that I was reading a beautifully written college essay rather then an advertisement. I felt no urge to visit the city, like I felt when I was reading the Los Angeles guide. The point of this guide is to entourage domestic tourism for a short period of time, and speaking about the founding of the city, early Native American roots, and the cities organization is useful information for potential residents, rather then for domestic tourists.

The Los Angeles guide (Which I feel is done extremely well) was broken down into four main sections which were entitled: Los Angeles: A General Survey, Los Angeles: Points of Interest, Los Angeles: Neighboring Cities, and finally the county around Los Angeles. Half the guide strongly emphasized general information about the city itself and actives to do while within the metropolises, which I felt was extremely well detailed, but en entire part was dedicated to information about neighboring cities as well as the county around Los Angeles. What these writers understood what many of the others did not is the fact that when a tourist decides to make a trip all the way from his home to somewhere he may have traveled hundreds of miles to visit, they do not want to be restricted to staying in one place, and want to look around as much as possible. The guide is fit perfectly towards these individuals and advertises all the cities and towns connected to Los Angeles as opposed to just the main city itself

In conclusion I feel a major difference between advertising for tourism today compared to advertising in the 1930’s. In todays society we are more driven by sensory elements, such as photographs, videos, and audio. In the 1930’s, as seen by many of these guides people are drawn more towards informational advertising.

Toward Los Angeles

Toward Los Angeles

In A “New Deal” for Leisure Michael Berkowitz talks about the roll the government played in order to, almost from the ground up, create a tourism industry in the United States. Unlike the earlier readings for this class, this is the first time we have moved away form the depressing hardship of The Great Depression, and onto the rise of the tourism industry in the United States. I feel that by doing this we the class is going though a similar transformation as the country did in the beginning of the1930’s. Berkowitz stats off by describing a photograph by Dorothea Lange entitled Toward Los Angeles in which the artist creates juxtaposition by showing a images of low-income migrant workers walking along a highway west towards Los Angels, while a billboard adverse the new leisurely way to travel on the railroad. This painted a extremely vivid image in my head and brought about a lot of unanswered questions in my head. The author then posed the primary question of the essay, that certainly anyone who looked at the picture was thinking, “Why did a period of drastically declining national income and the profound need to create work coincide with development of new leisure practices especially that of mass tourism?”

The aim of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was to try to revitalize the economy during the period after the Great Depression. The deal was based on the basic principles of the 3 R’s: Relief, Recovery, and Reform. The whole point of the plan was to engrave new consumption practices within the American people, while also creating social harmony. Governments and businesses both increased their tourism promotional spend away from the old market of solely middle and upper middle class people to the working population. These advertisements painted an idealistic picture of an American and went hand in hand with the relatively new concept of paid vacations.

According to Berkowitz until the early 1920’s the concept of vacations was alien to American people. People in the working class had no time or money to take a vacation, as every hour not working was seen as wasted. According to the American Dream, which can be clearly seen during this time period, Working harder, longer hours was the way to graduate from the working class into the middle and upper middle class and perhaps one day go on a vacation. People, who worked in farms, were even more pressed for time. In order to maximize worker productivity however in the 1930’s with the rise of government aid and the development of tourism infrastructure the concept of a paid vacation was born. It was based on an incentive system meaning that by luring workers with the idea of a vacation, they would work harder and by spending their money on a paid vacation they would stimulate the economy as well. It seems that these ideas and principles were extremely effective and just like that “The Travel Habit” was born.

Power in Numbers

Power in Numbers

The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There is power in numbers and there is power in unity.” This quote held true during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s in American and even more so in recent times with the Arab spring. In 2011 over 250,000 Egyptians stood in Tahrir Square protesting against the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Even though the single voice of a low income Egyptian held no weight, the ability they had to come together and gather in Tahrir Square indicated that the sum was greater then the whole of its parts and the people were able to have their way. These are the ideas and themes that came to my mind when I was reading about the time the Joads spent in Weedpatch camp. Weedpatch camp was a place where all the migrants from the Dust Bowl could live and govern themselves. Chapter 23 of the novel spent some time talking about what the migrants did in their free time when they were not on the job or searching for work. According to Steinbeck alcohol, music, and religion were the three main distractions the migrants used to escape their worries and try to find redemption.

During these chapters in the novel the Joads family seem to be going thorough a very positive, secure, and (Especially for Tom) motivational time. In these parts of the novel Tom, who recently found a job is no longer only looking to survive, but with the hope of a slightly brighter future, hoping to thrive. Ma Joad, the new ‘leader’ of the family is even quoted saying, “Why, I feel like people again.” The conversation Ma has with Jim Rawley, the manager of the camp, is with such kindness and respects that she begins to feel like a human again. Because the migrants in the camp are free to make their own decisions and have numbers behind them they create their own idealistic society within the Weedpatch camp. Throughout the novel these migrants are being told that they are morally inferior to the farm landowners who have class, money, and resources, but these chapters prove that this is not the case. In fact, based on the way the migrants react to the threat of riots in chapter 24, they seem to have a higher moral standing then the landowners. The idea of the farmers to create riots goes back to my earlier point that there is power in numbers. The farmers begin to figure out that because of the organization and unity these migrants have, which comes form the fact that they have been through such hardship, they are starting to become a threat to their current socio-economic way of life. This unity seems to have the greatest affect on Tom. Because Tom sees the power all the people around him have to sustain such a utopian life in the camp, he begins to look to the future, and sees a new world of possibilities. Sometimes when the road gets extremely tough and challenging, a small ray of light in the rain brings about the biggest rainbow.

Catalyst for Change

Catalyst for Change

The Grapes of Wrath is a realistic fiction novel following the lives of the Joad family as they depart their home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma in search for work out west in California. Although most of the novel primarily follow the basic story of the Joad families adventure out west, it also makes commentary on the difficulty thousands of families faced living during the dust bowl of the 1930’s. The longer chapters in the novel follow the fictional story, whole the shorter ones describe the historical, economic, and social factors that lead to the great migration in a very aesthetic manner. For example chapter three of the novel focuses on a turtle slowing walking across a highway in the heat of the summer. While one of the drivers tries to avoid hitting the turtle, another tries as hard as he can to run it over. Although he does not kill the turtle, he hits the side of his shell flipping the animal over. He is helpless, in the summer heat, struggling for a good amount of time, before he gets back on his way. In the next chapter which jumps back to a narration of Tom Joad, the protagonist seeing the turtle walking on the street and decides to pick it up. This scene of the turtle represents a universal theme of struggle and foreshadowing of what is to come, a hard road ahead.

Although Tom Joad is introduced in the novel as an ex convict charged with manslaughter you, the reader, immodestly treats him as a protagonist, and symphonize with him. In the opening chapter when he is talking to the truck driver, Tom immediately owns up to his crime and feels no shame for serving time in jail. He even tells Jim Casy, a preacher who seems to have lost his faith, that living in jail was a comfortable, in which he was provided constant food and water.

Thought-out the novel Tom begins and continues to be influenced by the teachings of Jim Casy. At the beginning of the novel Tom is a character, although self-interest or at most the interests of his family motivate having a high moral standard. Though the journey he takes with Jim, however he begins to understand that the only way to have a strong impact on the world is by helping the people around you. Because of the pain and hardship Tom and his family experience on the way, Jim Casy’s beliefs are only strengthened. It is only when Jim and Tom reunite that Tom finally fully realizes that he is living in a world full of injustice and something needs to be done, he needs to be a catalyst for change. Tom is a superb example of a dynamic character in the novel

 

 

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is a sort of photojournalistic book written by James Agee and photographed by Walker Evans about the lives of sharecroppers (An agricultural system where farm owners rent out their land to tenants for a share of the crops that are farmed) in the southern United States during the 1930’s. This was an extremely hard time for the farmers as it was during the height of the dust bowl or as some people referred to it – the Dirty Thirties.

The project came to be for an article the team accepted to produce for Fortune Magazine and right away in the introduction the author immediately states that the project itself is intrusive and it is nearly impossible to paint an accurate picture of these peoples lives through the article.

The main question being brought up here is whether or not by writing an article, which is in essence exploiting the lives of the families in the piece, beneficial for the sharecroppers. The same holds true with the photography. The photographer, Walker Evans, is trying as hard as possible to show an accurate representation of reality in his photographs and not use the camera as a way to portray the lives of his subjects in a false pretense. Other famous pieces about the south during this time period often show the poverty in the South during the dust bowl as ugly and grotesque, and in the opinion of the duo exploitation for the purpose of monetary gain. Because of this fact the story of often trying hard to protect the subject’s self-respect by maintaining a sort of distance from the poverty however also giving the readers a sense of the perspective.

In my opinion the work being presented here is a piece of art and journalism aimed at mocking the preconceived notions of art and journalism. A quote that was quite meaningful to me which agrees with this idea was the following, “If I could do it, I’d do no writing here at all. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art?”

This Right Here is America

This Right Here is America

In Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip two Russian travelers, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov embark on an American Road in the 1930’s and created a photo and text account of their journey. For me the most fascinating section of the text is the section titled “The Road” which focuses on American roads, which according to the two travels in the 1930s are the most remarkable phenomena of American life.

When the travelers began talking about the concept of a scenic road as they describe as picturesque and designed to show nature to its travelers a felt a great sense of imagery from the text. “Occasionally we were delighted by the vistas that appeared unexpectedly, especially in the mountains or in the national parks. Every turn in the road obediently opened up more vantage points on a beautiful view. Continuing on the road led us from one vista to another. It demonstrated nature to the travelers with all the skill of an artist guiding visitors through an exhibition of his panting’s.” This quote from the text paints a clearly picture for me of the travelers American Road trip then all the actual photographs in the text itself put together.

A major part of this section was when the travelers were describing the completely free service they received at a few of the many gas stations that lined the American highway’s by the thousands. In this section they began to paint a picture of what they described as “The Great American Service.” This was provided by the men who worked at the gas stations, who are described as gentlemen in striped hats and leather bowties, who service your car, change your oil, fix your tires, clean your windshields and even guide you on your adventure. “The traveler abandons the hospitable station-master with regret, comforted only by the thought that in a hundred miles the gasoline will run out…and a new gas station will turn up on the road, without fail.”

One quote that stuck out to me the most form this section was what they said describing the picture above (Figure 11). The two travels spent more then 4 months in the United States and they have summed up their American adventure in this picture. It was not from their time in the urban city of New York that they remembered. It was not their time in any of the states national parks. It was not their time in the beautiful city of San Francisco. It was a photograph of an intersection of two roads and a gas station. To the Russian travelers “This right here is America!”

In my opinion the Russian travelers discovered something extremely fascinating. In the 1930’s at the height of the great depression and at the beginning of the great travel revolution in the United States the two Russian road trippers figured out an integral part of American life. In the 20th century America was built on its roads. Without a quality highway system, as described in the photo journal, American live would be extremely different. Things would be less prosperous and more people would be packed into densely populated cities. The prices of crops and agriculture would be extremely expensive and America would not have had as much international competiveness.

 

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