A Picture of 1930’s America
The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl
The Great Depression was a severe economic downturn of the 1930’s which was solidified by the American stock market crash on October 29th, 1929. What followed was a period of widespread economic problems for many Americans. The Depression effected farmers differently as they had a unique factor in their economic success, this being the environment. The mid-west had experienced a severe drought during this same period which led decreased agricultural production and increased dust storms, giving this region the name the Dust Bowl .
California Dust Bowl Migration
To combat their economic problems in the mid-west, many farmers looked west for work and money. This movement west was already a trend that was happening before the economic downturn, but this accelerated and led to a slight increase in this trend. As people lost their farms and homes in the middle of the country, the people of the mid-west states moved mainly to California in pursuit of work, often to take up seasonal agricultural jobs. Commonly referred to as “Okie’s”, these migrants came from mostly from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, the latter of which is where the majority of migrants traveled from .
Often making the decision to leave their homes and home states, and then following through with the long trek from the mid-west to California, typically by car, was difficult, hazardous, and exhausting. Some families or family members did not make it all the way. The pain was worth the price and the chance to have work and many families made the journey .
Once the migrant families arrived in their new location, their experiences weren’t always better and their struggles weren’t always relieved. If adequate work was found then typically entire families were put to hard work in agricultural labor, an industry they were familiar with and a skill level they could achieve. Wages were based on collection and fluctuated greatly, but ultimately stayed very low due to the extreme surplus of labor provided . Migrant workers were often willing to take low wages, wages that the previous labor forces, the Mexican Americans, had refused to take . “Okies” were often perceived as the poor, lower class and one migrant described in an oral history that kids in his school would bully him because “they thought there was nothing lower than the Okies” .
The workers did have lives outside of harvesting. They also had responsibilities in keeping the camps functioning but they did have time to take part in recreational activities such as singing and making music .
The million or so migrants that moved out west during this time left an impact on California and California made an impact on them. Race interactions were often something new for the migrants. Many of them had never even met a Mexican or an African American before and now they were interacting with them for the first time. One migrant described how he had often gotten into fights with a certain African American at school because “I’d never went to school with a Mexican or Indian or colored man or nothing” which was often the case for many migrants . The workers displaced the Mexican labor force that was already in play in California . Due to the nature of the agricultural work they took up, Okies were often nomads and followed the periods of harvest, meaning they brought their low wages and economic strain with them as they traveled in herds to the next picking location.
1930’s America and The Grapes of Wrath
Representation of the Dust Bowl Migration in The Grapes of Wrath
The Joad family is an example of an Oklahoma family who’s lost their farm in the Depression. The Grapes of Wrath depicts the arduous journey west. The images of the large car, loaded with belongings and family members, the border checks, and even with both Grandma and Grandpa not being able to make the long journey. The surplus of labor was represented well. For example, the scene where the man breaks it down and says that there are way too many people going out west for the amount of people that the flier asked for. When the families got to the camp, there experiences were represented well. The movie depicts the low wages and the push against wages moving at all. Poverty was also depicted inside the camps, representing the poor Okies. The recreational side of camp can be seen in the scene at the dance.