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.