Faces of Poverty In the United States, the Great Depression started soon after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. The Great Depression was the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western industrialized world. Over the next few years spending and investment stopped causing steep declines in industrial output and rising levels of unemployment as failing companies laid off workers. Times were tough, and by 1933, 13 to 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed.
The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains area when devastated by drought during the 1930s. In the midst of the Great Depression, the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico experienced little rainfall, light soil, and high winds. When drought struck between 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked grass as an anchor so winds picked up the topsoil and swirled it into dust clouds called, “black blizzards”. These reoccurring dust storms choked cattle and caused chaos driving most of the population west. Poverty, land foreclosures, and drought forced them out of Lower Plain states.
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Most of the dust bowlers went to agricultural rich states, such as California in search of work. Desperate, hungry, and homeless these migrant families set out on journeys to the unknown. Many loaded a few belongings into their beat-up, old, and raggedy vehicles with only enough money for gas and little food. The book, The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck, played a significant role in the federal Resettlement Administration policies. Steinbeck’s descriptive articles were important because they reflected the reality of starving Americans and their harsh living conditions. 1) The title, The Harvest Gypsies, provided a reflection on the subject and informed me with the main idea of its contents. As I pondered the title, many images came to mind. Some of these images linger longer than others. The images of crops, seasons, pickers, and hard-working individuals seem to cloud my mind. The titles, The Harvest Gypsies and Their Blood is Strong, each tell about the experiences of the families that were forced to move west in search of work, food, and shelter. They also similar because they were both used with the intentions of helping the migrants gain better treatment and ultimately better lives. (2)
In California, the small farmers attitude towards the migrants showed a level of empathy and were friendly and understanding. The small farmer was sympathetic to the migrants because they understood the circumstances which forced them to relocate. The large rancher and the community shared the same feelings and attitude towards the migrant workers. The large ranchers and the community hated the migrants and viewed them as ignorant, dirty, and disease carriers. As a result, the ranchers and community treated the migrants very cruel and often expressed attitudes of hatred. The attitude towards the migrant workers is interesting to me.
I think the reason that the ranchers hated the migrants is because they feared the loss of control. The large rancher was angry at the fact that the harvest gypsies were U. S. citizens. This is important because these groups of people have fundamental rights that can be exercised. The ranchers knew that it would only be a matter of time before they organized. This scared the ranchers because they would not be able to use control, fear, and intimidation any longer. In addition, the ranchers would be mandated to provide appropriate living conditions which would hurt their pocket book. 3) John Steinbeck defines dignity by describing his subjects in an objective manner. He Begins to show the definition of dignity in chapter 2 when he uses three families in a squatters camp as examples. Steinbeck begins with creating word pictures in which he describes the materials used to build their homes. He continues by writing about the actions, appearance, and social status of the families. The first family, the upper class, showed that they still carried some level of dignity because they valued cleanliness in the midst of barely affording to feed the family.
John Steinbeck writes in The Harvest Gypsies, “He is a newcomer and his spirit and his decency and his sense of his own dignity have not been quite wiped out” (27). Steinbeck goes on to support his perspective by describing the suffering and loss of life these families has endured. I did not grasp the severity of these circumstances until Steinbeck describes, “The father and mother now feel that paralyzed dullness with which the mind protects itself against too much sorrow and too much pain” (28). He then writes about when a person loses all dignity, the community loses a level of dignity as well.
In our society we believe it is our responsibility to help others in time of need. (4) Today in the U. S, economics is the concept that deal with the production, allocation, and use of goods and services. Many factors are involved when the subject of economics is discussed. Supply refers to the amount of goods or services are available. Demand is how many people want to buy that good or service. The corporate farmers understood this important concept and used it to their advantage. The large ranchers knew that the migrants were desperate, hungry, and in need of work.
During this time, the ranchers would recruit twice as much labor than was needed. This method would allow the growers to use manipulation and intimidation towards the migrants by having the ability to replace workers whenever they wanted. Most importantly, having a large supply of migrant workers would allow the large ranchers to keep the wage low. (5) In 1936, John Steinbeck began touring the agricultural valley in California. Steinbeck was assigned to write a series of articles on the dust bowl migration for the San Francisco News.
The federal Resettlement Administration wanted to gain positive publicity for the New Deal agency. In the introduction of the Harvest Gypsies, Charles Wollenberg wrote, “Steinbeck used the articles to tell the reality of migrant life, to understand the despair and hopelessness that poverty and homelessness had created” (9). In Steinbeck’s articles he recommends the expansion of the federal camp program, urged a resettling program for “Oakies”, and advocated for the establishment of a state agricultural labor board. 6) While California growers received federal support for certain products and government aide for irrigation projects, Steinbeck recognized the migrants’ political weakness. I believe that Steinbeck urged the middle class workers to organize on the behalf of migrants because they are educated and large in members. He knew that if the middle class went on strike their actions would seriously impact growers profits, harvest, and political influence. If the middle class was to go on strike the result would be a high supply of product and a low demand from consumers causing a decrease in profits for growers.
The harvest would be affected because growers would not know how to deal with rotting crops. Loss of crop equals loss of money for the growers resulting in loss of political power and status in society. In our advanced world of technology today and with our fast-paced lifestyles it is no wonder why many Americans forget the values and standards of which this nation was built. Americans should be thankful for the values that define America. The value of personal liberty and the pursue of happiness. The Great Depression and the dust bowl have taught us that we should never take this great nation for granted.
I believe to enjoy prosperity and the freedom it enables; Americans must build any exceptionally competitive and equal society. We can no longer endure greed in private business and squabbling in public institutions, if we are to succeed. Virtue, integrity, and compromise are what built America and only through it can America and American values prevail. (7) Palliativealleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying cause. Bindlestiffmigrant who traveled from mines to lumber camps to farms for work (33) Gondola Meteto hand out; dish out, regarding behavior or attitude (20) Repatriatesent back (21)
Lackadaisicallacking determination Castesocial status or economic position (29) Tactiurnuncommunicative in speech Destitutenot having the basic necessities of life Canvassexamined carefully for needs (41) Incendiarylikely to cause controversy (43) Encroachintrude on a persons territory or rights. (8) Two simple sentences: 1. The present camps are set up on leased ground. (38) 2. A survey of the situation makes a few suggestions obvious. (58) Two compound sentences: 1. He could not stop long enough to establish residence or he would starve to death. (45) 2.
A few of the small farms set aside little pieces of land where the workers may pitch their shelters. (32) Two complex sentences: 1. Instead there is a steadiness of gaze and a self-confidence that can only come of restored dignity. (41) 2. And this father will not be able to make a maximum of four hundred dollars a year anymore because he is no longer alert; he isn’t quick at piece-work, and he is not able to fight clear of the dullness that has settled on him. (29) Work Cited Steinbeck, John. The Harvest Gypsies. Introduction by Wollenberg, Charles. SF News. 1936. Print.