Literature in 1930s America

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  • 0:01 1930s Literature…
  • 1:44 ''The Grapes of Wrath''
  • 2:37 ''Gone with the Wind''
  • 3:12 ''Our Town''
  • 3:35 William Faulkner
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

In this lesson, we will look at the major influences on literature in the 1930s. We'll discuss influential authors and several important pieces published during this time. When you are through, take the quiz to see what you have learned.

1930s Literature: A Brief Overview

If you just glance at literature published in the 1930s, you'll see a list of heavy hitters - Steinbeck, Faulkner, Margaret Mitchell - names most of us recognize even if we're not sure what they've written.

It's not a coincidence that literature coming out of this decade held so many notable names. The stories written during this era deeply reflected the times, validating reader's fears and pain while giving them a chance to escape their realities and relax by reading a book - even if that book's topic closely resembled their own life struggles. What was going on that made this decade troublesome? Let's take a look.

Trouble in the 1930s

Think back to your American history class and see if you can remember a time called the Great Depression. Anything ring a bell? If not, don't worry. We'll fill you in.

The Great Depression began on October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed. The stock market is where shares of companies that are public are bought, sold or traded. Although the depression began in the United States, it wasn't long before the rest of the world was also in a depression. An economic depression is marked by long-term declines, failures of businesses, and wide spread unemployment and poverty. The Great Depression lasted nearly ten years. During this tough time, Americans looked for a break from the day-to-day stress; literature provided a great escape.

As people searched for a way out of the depression, literature saw the rise of many great authors. A common theme written during this time was a focus on more simple times before the depression hit, like we see in Gone with the Wind or the common man persevering in times of trouble in The Grapes of Wrath. Let's take a look at a few important works.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath was published towards the end of the depression in 1939, and written by John Steinbeck. It is a powerful and realistic work. The story follows a poor family of tenant farmers from Oklahoma, the Joads, who lose their house as a result of the downturn in economics. The family sets out for California to begin a new life; there they continue to meet hardships. Employers in California take advantage of the influx of immigrants to the region, offering low wages and poor working conditions. Members of the Joad family organize other migrant workers in an attempt to change the conditions.

The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It also started a movement to change laws regarding farm laborers. Congress cited the novel as a catalyst for change. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962, for the novel's role in the change to labor laws.

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