impact on american literature during The Great Depression
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Impact on American Literature During the Great Depression
United States was hit hard by the blow of great Depression in around 1929. It was mainly caused by the huge dip in stock market on 29th October of the year 1929. The day heralded curse not only for the US economy but for world economy as well. The heavily industrialized nations got massively affected and the rate of unemployment in US fell by 25%. At this point the confrontation between capitalism and Marxism reached its peak. Survival then had the only solution of being exploited. It is to be noted in America Great Depression has been preceded by the period of ‘roaring twenties’ where money flowed in the air and a number of people grabbed that ‘new money’. However, it created a huge vacuum in the economic scenario of the country as the discrepancy between rich and poor was huge to be mended. After the wave of Modernist writer, there came a group of authors and poets who got deeply influenced by these devastating socio-economic situations in America as started reflecting the acute pessimism and howling of common people of US in their literary works (Akimoto et al. 1358). The portrayal of culture through art was either showing the real disastrous incidents of Depression or diverting the tension of people by the means of entertainment. The Jazz Age gave rise to rich capitalist socialites in terms of movie stars, sportsmen, politicians and businessmen. Photojournalism became a profitable practice by media to show the common people the lavishness of American Dream and they in spite of being starved found solace in those simulated extravaganza.
In this essay, the impact of Great Depression upon American literature will be evaluated with the help of three masterpieces of that time. One of the famous novel in the era of 1930s is The Grapes of Wrath (1940) by John Steinbeck and the narrator says, “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories” (Steinbeck 284). The era of 1930s also witnessed a desperate longing to get back the past for the placid and peaceful life. The Great Depression snatched the general assurance from common men and left them with never ending struggle of surviving. World War I gifted the mankind a vacuum where people could no longer trust anything or anybody and made each individual an island itself. American literature has gone through a number of upheavals such as colonialist exploitation, war of independence, World War I, developing as a valued country worldwide and empowering existence in World War II (Akimoto et al. 1358). Contextualizing this, in the novel The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck deal in one of the major concerns of Great Depression, that is migration. After being driven out from the firm of Oklahoma, the Joad family moved to California with hopes of employment and economic prosperity. But their expectation got shattered as the situation was even worsened by sordid migrated camps, discriminating, unquestionable and unethical policies and exploitative and autocratic employers at the farms.
It has been noticed that literature at this time criticized the society very bluntly for the disgusting disparity. William Faulkner was another author to capture the brutality and helplessness of people of Great Depression in his novels. In fact, he produced his successful literary creations at the time of Great Depression. Ted Atkinson wrote a book called Faulkner and the Great Depression: Aesthetics, Ideology, and Cultural Politics (2006) where he evaluated the jeopardizing impact of Great Depression upon Faulkner’s writings such as The Sound and The Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). He has further accounted that the novels of Faulkner are socio-political statements on time (328). For example, As I Lay Dying reflects the story of Cash Bundren, a carpenter like Faulkner himself who was a worker at a factory at that time. His aim was to capture the poverty stricken situations of Proletariats in America. In the words of Joseph Blotner regarding the commencement of this novel by Faulkner at the factory, “On October 25, 1929, the day after panic broke out on Wall Street, [Faulkner] took one of these [onion] sheets, unscrewed the cap from his fountain pen, and wrote at the top in blue ink, ‘As I Lay Dying.’ Then, he underlined it twice and wrote the date in the upper right-hand corner” (Hagood 618). Thus, the constitutional relationship between the Wall Street crash and his novel can be justified on the point of panic and pressure. In fact, his writings in that phase are now considered by critics to be a historical account of Depression. He moved beyond criticizing or lamenting over this tough phase, instead of that, he himself struggled with his characters to find out the ways sometimes to defend and sometimes to fight back the circumstances of Great Depression.
Great Depression was an inseparable part of the very personal objective in case of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000). Very different from John Steinbeck and William Faulkner, Atwood is born in 1939 when Great Depression was almost fleeted away from American continent. She accounted in an interview that, “My first idea was to write about the generations of my grandmother and my mother, which together spanned the entire 20th century” (Staels 149). Thus, she processed the novel in the year 2000. Canada as part of American continent was also deeply affected by Great Depression. The impact of Great Depression was a kind of trailing effect for Atwood as she did not witness it rather only heard of it from her two very important persons of life. However, it shows how much significant Great Depression has been and still is for the present and future socio-economic circumstances of America. According to Staels (155), Atwood has caged Great Depression by the preceding World War I and following World War II in order to contemplate the individual life changing experience for both Iris and Laura in the novel.
Great Depression was delineated in American literature as an undeniable history that changed the people of America altogether. In the process of recovering, they became an overarching economic leader in the world. Postmodernism brought more of a kind of radicalism in the British literature by themes of alienation, fragmentation and disillusionment. By Great Depression, people of America realized the hollowness of war and the contemporary literature critiqued the hypocrisy of politicians regarding mending the financial crisis of common people and how common people themselves struggled their living out on their own.
Staels, Hilde. Atwood’s Specular Narrative: The Blind Assassin. English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature. 2004. Print.
Atkinson, Ted. Faulkner And The Great Depression. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2006. Print.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes Of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.
Akimoto, Eiichi, and T. H. Watkins. The Great Depression: America In The 1930S.’. The Journal of American History. 1994. Print.
Hagood, T. Faulkner And The Great Depression: Aesthetics, Ideology, And Cultural Politics; William Faulkner’s Legacy: What Shadow, What Stain, What Mark. American Literature. 2007. Print.