Great Depression: Working Class

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During the Great Depression, Americans living in the West developed characteristics such as self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, tenacity, and occasionally optimism, qualities that helped them survive through this period of hardship. Despite the lack of aid and attention from the government and the influential upper classes of society, lower-class Americans survived the Great Depression through various means, often unconventional and illegal. However, the collective poverty and struggle had a positive aspect, in that those living in the West looked after each other through the difficult times. A major cause of the development of specific characteristics in struggling Westerners was the lack of aid from those in power. Though the Roosevelt administration attempted to help citizens in the West through Works Progress Administration jobs, the federal government and the upper classes largely overlooked the West. Chapter 15 of The Grapes of Wrath introduces a class of “shitheels,” upper class Americans traveling through the West who, surrounded by sights of poverty, can only view the West as dirty and uncivilized. In The Philanthropist, the portrayal of a rich man carelessly eating five-cent apples while a poor apple-seller looks on represents the unconcern that the rich felt towards those affected by the Great Depression. The rich man does not understand the underlying cause of unemployment and simply purchases apples to eat, showing how the upper classes continued to survive on the struggling working-class. However, …when I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. (Sandburg 71).

This poem serves as a reminder that the common people held the power to change the world, and that although the masses “forget” the...
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