American Families During the Great Depression, almost giving up on the American Dream
During this harsh economic period, American families were falling part, they had to endure financial, social and psychological challenges in such dire times.
On the other hand, the families that did stick together barely made it through by leaving their homes to move in crowded shelters of relatives in order to feed their children and share the rent. This cohesion of families helped everyone cope with the struggles of poverty. Building strong communities was important to help each other out, united people were able to get by.
To survive the Great Depression, child labor was necessary for families to pull through economic hardships. Even the women took the role of the "breadwinners" by seeking job out of the home. Families planted small gardens, "canned" food when they could, pawned jewelry and house hold goods. Families had to adjust to an extremely frugal lifestyle of selling everything they could to spend the least amount and reuse anything they could; with the exceptions of necessary items like food, water and rent. There was only enough for the needs, wants had to be put on hold just like the American Dream.
Schwab, John J., Helen M. Gray-Ice, and Florence R. Prentice. Family Functioning: The General Living Systems Research Model. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 2000. Print.
Social Security Act 1935
Established the Aid to Dependent Children program, "An act to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws" (National Archives)
Commuting for Work
Overcrowded trains transported millions of unemployed people in search of a job and a new life with better opportunities away from home.
In search for new beginnings during this decade people wanted to escape from the poverty, starvation, dry lands and despair.
Children as young as 5 or 6 year old worked in factories or selling nickel/dime newspapers from door to door. Fun wasn't really an option for them most of the time. The Great Depression deprived families from a "normal" childhood. Until President Roosevelt's New Deal act which added protection for children in labor and gave those job to adults instead because of the high unemployment rate.
American Literature during the Great Depression
During this discouraging decade, American writers took it upon themselves to write inspiring literature by using politics and economics to get their message across to their readers. When the unemployed and impoverished citizens of America had no voice, these writers gave them one. In Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath he focuses on the oppression of poor tenant farmers by industrialized agriculture and greedy landowners. The greatest hope that the migrant farmers have in overcoming instability is by uniting with one another. The Joad family takes a chance and goes on an ambitious journey from Oklahoma to California in pursuit of employment. Although the destination seems like a promising one, the journey the Joad's endured had its fair share of problems. They face hunger, bad weather conditions and deaths/sickness in the family... but they stick together along with another family they meet along the way, the Wilson family whom help each other get through these struggles. Among such uncertainty, each family member continues to hold on to their American dream: the dad hopes he'll find work, mom continues to wish for a house, and their young daughter just wants to live a normal teenage life in a place that has an accessible movie theater.
While writing his novel Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee went to Alabama in 1936 and spent most of his time with three tenant farming families, they "were not only not famous but ignored, neglected, marginalized, and scorned by the rest of the nation." Agee used his novel to portray the reality he saw of these broken families by writing about their struggles with money, shelter, clothing, education and work at a crucial time when their government would not listen or help. Both of these American Literature books made the readers feel that their problems were shared with the rest of the nation, and that there was always hope as long as families and the working class remained strong and united.
"All we got is the family unbroken. Like a bunch of cows, when the lobos are ranging, stick all together." (Steinbeck's 217).
By Andrea Castaneda