The Representation of Poverty in Great Depression American

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The Representation of Poverty in Great Depression American

Transcript Of The Representation of Poverty in Great Depression American

University of Central Florida
STARS
HIM 1990-2015 2014
The Representation of Poverty in Great Depression American Literature
Cavel Austin University of Central Florida
Part of the English Language and Literature Commons Find similar works at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/honorstheses1990-2015 University of Central Florida Libraries http://library.ucf.edu This Open Access is brought to you for free and open access by STARS. It has been accepted for inclusion in HIM 1990-2015 by an authorized administrator of STARS. For more information, please contact [email protected]
Recommended Citation Austin, Cavel, "The Representation of Poverty in Great Depression American Literature" (2014). HIM 1990-2015. 1653. https://stars.library.ucf.edu/honorstheses1990-2015/1653

THE REPRESENTATION OF POVERTY IN GREAT DEPRESSION AMERICAN LITERATURE
by
CAVEL CASSANDRA AUSTIN
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Honors in the Major Program in English Literature
in the College of Education and Human Performance and in the Burnett Honors College at the University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida
Fall Term 2014 Thesis Chair: Elsie Olan, Ph.D.

ABSTRACT
The objective of this thesis is to explore how American authors represented poverty across different states during the Depression Era. I have chosen to review social reform author John Steinbeck, and proletariat authors, Michael Gold, Meridel Le Sueur, and William Attaway. Before addressing the issues presented in the data collection tools (novels): The Grapes of Wrath, Jews Without Money, The Girl, and Blood on the Forge, I reviewed the fundamentals of the events leading up to the crash of the stock market, which spiraled the United States and the world at large in the greatest Depression ever known. In this thesis, I have also outlined a summary of the novels for the benefit of readers who may not have had the opportunity to read them. I have applied a Marxist literary critical analysis to the preceding novels highlighting three overarching concepts of the theory: economic power, materialism versus spirituality, and class conflict. Evolving from these concepts are the key tenets of Marxism: base, superstructure, hegemony, commodification, class conflict, and false consciousness. In the literary critical analysis, I applied these key tenets to the plot of each novel in order to underscore the ideologies of Marxist theorists with regards to the existence of class divisions and how this division creates class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to express sincere gratitude to Dr. Elsie Olan, my chair, for taking me under her wings and extending her expertise, guidance, and commitment. For guiding and supporting me
throughout the process, which has led to the successful completion of my thesis. To Dr. Sherron Roberts for expressing genuine love and support, which served to motivate and inspire me, and for her invaluable workshops, which helped to pave the way for the completion
of my thesis. To my committee members Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan and Dr. Cyhthia J. Hutchinson, thank you for your constructive comments, prompt responses, commitment, and team spirit without which this
thesis would not have been a success. To John Veneck, Librarian/Research Consultant, for your recommendations and guidelines that
helped to carve the direction of my thesis. To Dr. Patricia Angley, Dr. Barry Mauer, Dr. Carolyn Hopp, and Dr. Mark Kamrath for your
counsels and recommendations. and
To Imani Thompson, my daughter, who did not hesitate to give technical support and acted as my Chief Editor.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................... 1 STATEMENT OF PURPOSE ........................................................................................................ 5 THE GREAT DEPRESSION ......................................................................................................... 7
Root Causes of the Great Depression ......................................................................................... 7 The Social Impacts of the Great Depression............................................................................. 10 METHODOLOGY ....................................................................................................................... 11 Literary Fiction ......................................................................................................................... 11 Literary Criticism...................................................................................................................... 11 Literary NonFiction/Memoirs - Contemporary, Literary, Creative Nonfiction Books ............ 12 Jonathon Kozol Books .............................................................................................................. 12 REVIEW OF RESEARCH LITERATURE ................................................................................. 15 Representation of the Poverty in Literature: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck............ 15
Author’s Background............................................................................................................ 15 Summary of the novel ........................................................................................................... 17 Representation of the Poverty in Literature: Jews Without Money by Michael Gold .............. 21 Author’s Background............................................................................................................ 21 Summary of the novel ........................................................................................................... 23 Representation of the Poverty in Literature: The Girl by Meridel Sueur ................................. 28 Author’s Background............................................................................................................ 28
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Summary of the novel ........................................................................................................... 30 Representation of the Poverty in Literature: Blood on the Forge by William Attaway ........... 36
Author’s Background............................................................................................................ 36 Summary of the novel ........................................................................................................... 38
LITERARY CRITICAL ANALYSIS .......................................................................................... 46 Curricula Implications .............................................................................................................. 80 Classroom Implications ............................................................................................................ 80 Effective Teaching Strategies ............................................................................................... 80 Assessment Strategies ........................................................................................................... 81 Formative .............................................................................................................................. 81 Summative ............................................................................................................................ 81
CONCLUSIONS........................................................................................................................... 82 Call for Action .......................................................................................................................... 82 Massive Job Losses................................................................................................................... 83 Dehumanizing Living Conditions............................................................................................. 84 Demoralized Patriarchs and Destitute Families ........................................................................ 85 Extreme Poverty Resulted in Deaths ........................................................................................ 86 Poverty Led to Acceptance of the Bourgeoisie’s Ideologies .................................................... 88 Poverty Resulted into Class Conflict ........................................................................................ 90
APPENDIX A: RESEARCH TIMELINE ................................................................................... 92 Timeline – Summer and Fall 2014............................................................................................ 93 v

Start Critical Analysis ............................................................................................................... 93 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................. 94 LITERATURE CITED ................................................................................................................. 97
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LIST OF TABLES
Table 1: Demographics of Data Collection Tools. ....................................................................... 13 Table 2: Process of Analysis........................................................................................................ 14 Table 3: National Council of Social Studies................................................................................ 80
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INTRODUCTION
“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, 2002, p. 88).
A close reading of a number of literatures written during the 1930s spawned my idea to write a thesis that would compare the salient resemblance of social dilemmas during the Great Depression Era and how they further deepened society into separate class structures. I have selected four Depression Era novels to analyze the effects of the greatest recession the world has ever witnessed on Americans. To lay the foundation of my thesis, I have given a synopsis of the changing face of literary works during the Great Depression and a brief introduction of each novel. In order to conduct a favorable critical analysis, I presented a brief summary of the events that led to the Depression. Before engaging in the literary criticism, I thought it important to provide background information and a summary of each author and novel. I have used a Marxist literary critical analysis to highlight the nature of the socioeconomic impacts of the Great Depression.
The Great Depression underscores an important period in the history of American literature. During this period 1929-39, many American authors veered towards writing literary works that addressed the social impacts of the Depression on American families. Poverty surfaced as a recurring theme in the work of an onslaught of new authors. Some sought revolutionary political reform while others called for social reform. Many writers rejected the idea of capitalism and its so-called progress and formed allegiance with the Communist Party.
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Some novelists drew inspiration from probing deeper in the lives of the poor and the working class. Others looked to politics and economics to pen many fictional representations of poverty in American during the Great Depression.
Two distinct styles of writing emerged: proletariat and social reform or sociological novels. According to Foley (1993), “[d]epression-era proletarian literature, arising as it did in a moment when many felt the great day was coming soon, offers sustenance and inspiration … to those who still hope and work for the great day to come” (p. viii). Foley (1993) states, “many proletarian writers focused on the formation of working-class experience and consciousness (or false consciousness) in relation to race and gender” (p. viii). However, sociological novels bear similar characteristics to problem novels. According to Holman (1977), sociological novels are “a form of the PROBLEM NOVEL which centers its principal attention on the nature, function, and effect of the society in which the characters live and on the social forces playing upon them” (p. 502). One of the most poignant literary works of the Depression Era came from the pen of John Steinbeck. Through his literary works, Steinbeck emerged as one of the first American authors who called for social reforms.
The Grapes of Wrath (2009), an American realist novel, records the history and lives of dislocated, poor, white, sharecropping farmers from Oklahoma. The story depicts a family that joined the Westward migration to California in search of jobs advertised on handbills throughout the villages in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. During the era of the Great Depression, poverty emerged as one of the most prevalent themes in society and literary works. However, poverty was not confined to any given race or region. Instead, it had sprawling effects especially on the lower class or “‘the American Underclass:’ those ‘people who [were] seen to be stuck more or less
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PovertyThesisDepressionNovelsLiterature