The Great Depression

Though most Americans are aware of the Great Depression of 1929,

which may well be "the most serious problem facing our free enterprise

economic system", few know of the many Americans who lost their homes,

life savings and jobs. This paper briefly states the causes of the

depression and summarizes the vast problems Americans faced during the

eleven years of its span. This paper primarily focuses on what life

was like for farmers during the time of the Depression, as portrayed

in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and tells what the government

did to end the Depression.

In the 1920's, after World War 1, danger signals were apparent

that a great Depression was coming. A major cause of the Depression

was that the pay of workers did not increase at all. Because of this,

they couldn't afford manufactured goods. While the factories were

still manufacturing goods, Americans weren't able to afford them and

the factories made no money (Drewry and O'connor 559).

Another major cause related to farmers. Farmers weren't doing to

well because they were producing more crops and farm products than

could be sold at high prices. Therefore, they made a very small

profit. This insufficient profit wouldn't allow the farmers to

purchase new machinery and because of this they couldn't produce goods

quick enough (Drewry and O'connor 559).

A new plan was created called the installment plan. This plan was

established because many Americans didn't have enough money to buy

goods and services that were needed or wanted. The installment plan

stated that people could buy products on credit and make monthly

payments. The one major problem with this idea was that people soon

found out that they couldn't afford to make the monthly payment(Drewry

and O'connor 559).

In 1929 the stock market crashed. Many Americans purchased stocks

because they were certain of the economy. People started selling

their stocks at a fast pace; over sixteen million stocks were sold!

Numerous stock prices dropped to fraction of their value. Banks lost

money from the stock market and from Americans who couldn't pay back

loans. Many factories lost money and went out of business because of

this great tragedy (Drewry and O'connor

By the 1930's, thirteen million workers lost their jobs which is

25 percent of all workers. The blacks and unskilled workers were

always the first to be fired. Farmers had no money and weren't

capable of paying their mortgages. Americans traveled throughout the

country looking for a place to work to support themselves and their

family (Drewry and O'connor 560-561). John Steinbeck, born in 1902,

grew up during the Depression near the fertile Salinas Valley and

wrote many books of fiction based on his background and experiences

during that time and area of the country. One of his great works would

be the Grapes of Wrath In this book, Steinbeck describes the farmers

plight during the Great Depression and drought. When the rains failed

to come, the grass began to disappear. As the farmers watched their

plants turn brown and the dirt slowly turn to dust they began to fear

what was to come. In the water-cut gullies the earth dusted down in

dry little streams. As the sharp sun struck day after day, the leaves

of the young corn became less stiff and erect; then it was June and

the sun shone more fiercely. The brown lines on the corn leaves

widened and moved in on the central ribs. The weeds frayed and edged

back toward their roots. The air was thin and the sky more pale; and

every day the earth paled. (qtd. Steinbeck 2-3). The farmers worst

fears were realized when their corn and other crops began to die. The

dust became so bad they had to cover their mouths with handkerchiefs

so they could breath (Steinbeck 3- When the drought hit the Great

Plains and the soil turned to dust, many farmers moved to California

because they could no longer farm their land(Drewry and O'Connor 561).

The drought began to affect other parts of the country. In 1930,

Virginia's belt of fertile land dried up. Ponds, streams, and springs

all dried up and the great Mississippi River water level sank lower

than ever recorded. Small farmers every-where began to feel the

drought. Their small gardens were ruined and their corn crop was cut

almost down to nothing. The