Why does a novel from 1939 about a migrant family in search of work during the Great Depression still resonate with readers in the 21st century? The answer is simple: look around. After the recession of 2008, this story maintains its relevance, especially with many students whose parents lost their jobs and/or careers as a result of the 2008 crash. The universal themes of the pursuit of the American Dream, perseverance, and the struggle against injustice, are still found in many aspects of American life today. As a result, The Grapes of Wrath has been hailed as one of the defining novels of American literature.
The Great Depression
|Unemployment Rate 25%||Unemployment Rate 10%|
20% of people are underemployed
|Governmental monetary stimulus took 19 months to reflect in the stock market||Governmental monetary stimulus took 10 months to reflect in stock market|
|People waited in bread lines; depended on government to survive day-to-day||One in six people ended up on governmental assistance|
|Banks collapsed, losing $140 billion in depositors’ money; over 9,000 banks failed||Between GDP loss and loss of household wealth, estimates are around $12.8 trillion dollars lost; 57 banks failed|
Right in the middle of the Great Depression came one of the worst droughts America had ever seen. For several years (from about 1934-1940), 150,000 square miles of America’s heartland were ravaged by high winds, dry conditions, and poor cultivation practices that led to loose topsoil in which nothing could survive the harsh weather.
While reading The Grapes of Wrath, have students compare and contrast the Joads’ story with that of the immigration crisis out of Syria into Europe.