Steinbeck, Guthrie, and the Dust Bowl – Part 5

They drove through Tehachapi in the morning glow, and the sun came up behind them, and then—suddenly they saw the great valley below them. Al jammed on the brake and stopped in the middle of the road, “Jesus Christ! Look!” he said. The vineyards, the orchards, the great flat valley, green and beautiful, the trees set in rows, and the farm houses. (227).

Route 66 let into California at the town of Bakersfield. The quote above from The Grapes of Wrath describes their first impressions of California, after going through the desert and experiencing all the difficulties of a long journey with limited supplies. From their high perch on a hill, California does appear to have that “Garden of Eden” quality to it that had been promised by the handbills they found in Oklahoma. The reality was not Eden-like in the least bit, however, as the Joads of the story, and the migrants of real life, would soon find out. Continue reading

Steinbeck, Guthrie, and the Dust Bowl – Part 4

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Now that the motivations and backgrounds of the two artistic heavyweights have been discussed, their stakes in the struggle outlined, it is necessary to go back to the farming situation of the Southwest, and to discuss the situations on the individual farm level that caused families to uproot entirely from their homes. As has already been mentioned, there was not any one cause for this great migration, but much of what ended up driving these people across the country came from the reality of life on the farm, in particular the economic landscape of the U.S. agricultural community, in the 1920s and early 1930s. The economic situation that the farmers faced, whether it was the low price of their crops or the heavy debt most of them were in, had started to foment much earlier than the Stock Market crash of 1929. Continue reading

Steinbeck, Guthrie, and the Dust Bowl – Part 3

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If Steinbeck defined the Depression from a literary standpoint, a man named Woodrow Wilson (“Woody”) Guthrie defined it musically, and the two would become intertwined as symbols of a major period of American history. He was a man who presented himself as one of the people, a true Okie, and that would prove to be one of the keys to his success as a defining musician of the period (Partington 2006). Though his songs would later be hailed for their simple wisdom, Guthrie was far from simple, at the same time “hillbilly and intellectual, songwriter and artist, conflicted father and husband” (Kim-Brown 2006). Woody hailed from Okemah, Oklahoma, and he spent a large amount of his teenage years hitchhiking and boxcar-riding in and around Oklahoma and Texas, where his father was living (Partington 2006). During the 1930s Guthrie spent much of his time near his father in Pampa, Texas, and one day he came across an old acoustic guitar which he in turn taught himself how to play. In 1933, Guthrie married the sister of one of his bandmates from a group he founded called the Corncob Trio, but the town of Pampa had little to offer in the way of work (Kim-Brown 2006). Times were tough for the new Guthrie family, but Woody tried to do as many odd-jobs as he could to support his family. Continue reading