Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl was a term that described the era during which an immense cloud of dust seemed to absorb cities. They began in 1934 in Montana and Wyoming, and the dust traveled eastward, and eventually spread to Iowa and Wisconsin. The dust was inescapable and eventually became a part of daily life for people who were considered to live in the “Dust Bowl”. The Dust Bowl was a dark time for American History. The cause of this large amount of dust was the droughts that had been occurring in the high planes. In order to survive the extreme weather conditions, the prairie grasses had to develop deep roots. However, farmers wanted to exploit and uncover the rich soil beneath the grasses and Dust Storms were an affect of this.
Along with the dust storms, came the Great Depression, and the combination of these two events shattered the dreams of many Americans to travel to lands of opportunity in the west. The rains had failed them, and their crops were destroyed. The wind eroded their land, and they were not able to make money through agriculture anymore. In fact, John Steinbeck wrote one of the most influential novels about the Dust Bowl and life during the Great Depression. In his book, he used the story of a fictional character to portray the real things that people faced during this era. He spoke about California and how it used to be an “agrarian dream of economic sufficiency and independence.” However, “the dream turned into a nightmare.” The people who migrate there quickly realize that this once was a land of agricultural opportunity and success, but because of the Dust Bowl, it is now dry and barren land, that will be impossible to farm.
There is some controversy about Steinbeck’s story however. Many people believed that since he based the novel on a fictional character that the historical details were not accurate. However, this was not the case. Steinbeck performed extensive historical research in order to truly understand this time period and the struggles that real people faced during this era. This has been proven by research performed by social scientists and government officials. For example, Dorothea Lange and her husband Paul Taylor followed the migrant trail from Oklahoma through Texas and across the desert to the migrant camps in California. Lange was a photographer hired to document rural life. She and Taylor eventually published a book that displayed the struggles and horrors that people faced during this time, and used shocking pictures as evidence that this was actually what occurred during that time.
The Dustbowl of the 1930s lasted a decade, and it was an era of obstacles and struggles for Americans. With the arrival of the stock market crash, matters were already difficult, but with the added environmental issues caused by the Dust Bowl, agriculture and farmers suffered as well, making matters worse for the American economy.

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