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Great Depression and Romanticism in America

Introduction

The great depression influenced American romanticism in a great way. Romanticism refers to a movement that used literature, music, and art to communicate messages to the society. Artists reacted to issues that arose in the society by producing paintings and pictures, writing novels and poems, and also producing music that criticized such issues. The great depression defines an economic downturn experienced all over the world just a few years before the break of the Second World War. It began in 1929 and had devastating effects to all countries in the world. It began in the United States when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. From the United States, it spread to other parts of the world and led to unemployment, high levels of poverty, decrease in production, and a decrease in price levels of products (Emerson 32). The great depression influenced romanticism in America in that most of the art and literature that was composed during this period concentrated on the effect of the depression on the social lives of many Americans. Novels and poems were written criticizing the great depression. Artists produced paintings and pictures portraying the great depression as a cause of all the experiences that individuals were going through. Some musical artists also composed music that criticized the social effects of the great depression on the lives of many individuals. This paper will seek to analyze how the great depression influenced romanticism in America. Examples of literal art and other work that was produced criticizing the effects of the great depression on social lives of individuals will be used.

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Influence on Literature

The great depression affected the work of literature in America during this period in a great way. Poems, short stories, and novels were written depicting the social effects of the great depression on citizens. In 1939, John Steinbeck Published his work by the title The Grapes of Wrath. The book was written during the great depression and talks of a poor family that is driven out of its home by drought, hardships, and changes in the agricultural industry (Sobchack 7). These changes came into being as a result of the great depression. The family is so hopeless that it is ready to move out of America. With other families, they begin their journey to California where they thought they could get land, jobs, and dignity. When they arrived to their destination, their hopes of accessing some well paying jobs and land are shuttered. There is oversupply of labor and the process of hiring is unethical. In addition, those who are lucky to access the jobs have no rights as employees. Large scale farmers have also colluded at the expense of the small scale farmers. The small scale farmers suffer from the collapsing prices which in effect decreases production (Lone Star College 4). The writer of the novel was influenced by the great depression to write about its effect on the social life of individuals. It talks about unemployment, high levels of poverty, reduced prices of products, and decrease in production.

In addition to novels that were influenced by the great depression, poets were also influenced by the great depression in America where they composed poems criticizing its effects on social lives of many individuals. A poet like Brush Robert composed a poem by the title Depression. The poem talks of a little red bam where the place has been deserted. There are no animals in the farm and everything is out of order. The poem was written to show the way the great depression affected the social lives of people. Many other poems that were composed during this period were influenced by the great depression. Most of the poems talked about unemployment, poverty, low prices of farmer’s products, and many other negative effects of the great depression (Penrod 29). Generally, the poems that were composed during this period were influenced by the great depression.

Influence on Art

During the 1930s, several artists were influenced by the great depression to produce paintings and pictures that portrayed the effects that it had on social lives of many individuals in America. An example of such regionalist painters is Thomas Hart Benton. He captured the American scene in the 1930s in a very unique manner. In his picture: Art of the West, he criticized the western civilization in the United States. The painting is used as a mockery to the disasters that individuals experienced in the country. The life was very different from the life that the individuals had lived in the 1920s. In the painting, the westerners are shown holding guns and making fools of themselves. Actually, this is the exact picture that an outsider could have seen in them. The westerners are lazy, jobless, and there is nothing good they can do. Just like the novels that talked of people deserting their homes, paintings by Benton had a similar message. His painting: Approaching Storm produced in 1938, portrays how the society had become during the period of the great depression. A piece of land is bare with only two donkeys with nothing to feed on. The farm could have been one of the best places for a person to spend his or her life at one time. The place could have been green with some beautiful animals but what can be seen is a picture of a windy and gray place. The donkeys in the painting appear to be getting away of the piece of land. These are the only living animals that appear in the painting. The exit of the donkey will render the place lifeless. The economy of the United States had dragged and was pulling the world with it. Other photographers like Dorothea Lange produced a picture of a migrant woman her two daughters (Lange 1). The mother is very desperate while the two daughters seem to lean on her, an indication that they expect her to provide them with some food. According to Dorothea, the woman confessed that they had lived on frozen vegetables and some birds that the children had managed to kill. Many artists came out and produced paintings and photographs showing the effect that the great depression had on the social lives of many Americans. Many artists also came up with several pictures that they produced through the influence of the great depression. Most of the paintings and pictures that were produced during the period portrayed the negative effects of the great depression on the social lives of many Americans (Moss 47). The great depression had influenced all the artists in producing their paintings and photographs.

Influence on Music

During the period, some musical artists produced music that showed the state of desperation that individuals experienced as a result of the great depression. An artist like Duke Ellington produced the song: It don’t mean a thing. He talks of a situation where an individual has reached his or her end and there is nothing he or she can do. The song: Brother, Can you spare a dime by Harburg was composed in 1932 and talks of a man who had built his hope in the country but a crash had shuttered all his dreams. Everything is wrong in the country. The songs by several artists composed in this period portray the social effects that the great depression had on the society. These artists were reacting to the great depression. This is a clear indication that great depression affected romanticism in America. Other songs were composed to encourage people during the hardships that came with the great depression. In the song: I Ain’t Got No Home by Woody Guthrie also talks of the severe life that the great depression had to individuals in the society. He has given up and is left with the option accepting all that had happened and wait for rewards in the next world. He was also encouraging people to accept the situations and move on with life. Many songs that were composed during the period of the great depression were influenced by the depression itself. They criticized its effect on the social lives of Americans (Wooden 66).

Conclusion

The great depression influenced the American romanticism in a great way. It is the economic depression that was experienced all over the world just a few years before the break of the Second World War. It influenced literature in that most of the novels and poems that were composed during the period criticized the negative effect of the depression on social lives of many individuals. Many paintings and pictures produced during the period criticized effect of the depression on the social lives of many Americans. In addition to literature and art, music that criticized the social effects of the depression was also produced in the period.

Works Cited

Emerson, Thomas, H. The Great Depression: An International Disaster of Perverse Economic Policies. New York: University of Michigan, 2001.

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Lange, Dorothea. Migrant Mother. 1936. Web.

Lone Star College. American Cultural History 1930-1939. 2010. Web.

Moss, Joyce. Literature and its Times: The Great Depression and the New Deal to Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Sobchack, Vivian C. The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis through Visual Style”. American Quarterly, 31.5(1979): 596-615

Penrod, John. 2000. American Literature and the Great Depression. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Print.

Wooden, Howard. American Art of the Great Depression. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1999. Print.

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