The Great Depression Summary

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The Great Depression

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 hay and grass needed to feed their livestock was no longer
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