- Harry L. Hopkins, New Orleans WPA GuideWhile looking through the various WPA Guides for states and cities throughout the nation, I am struck by the thoroughness and attention to detail that is apparent within the text. Just how long might it have taken to craft even one of these guides? How many people were commissioned to work on the guidebooks? I am curious about the amount of labor, hard work, and determination that went into the production of these books.
With regards to the WPA Guide referencing the city of New Orleans, copyrighted by the Mayor of New Orleans and produced by the Federal Writers’ Project of Louisiana, the text takes on a very flowery, dense tone for the most part. For instance, many paragraphs are dedicated to a long, winding description of New Orleans’ Garden District, and one of the sentences reads, “There is scarcely a day in the year where flowers cannot be seen” (FWPL 3). While this detail is okay to an extent, it is not the most informative and it is certainly quite obvious to the reader already. I have to wonder, did the WPA Guides take on too large of a task? It appears quite difficult to summarize an entire city or state when the details are so fine, with so much information to cover right down to the flowers that the travelers will view.
In reference to the quote that begins this post, I am curious as to the validity and longevity of the WPA Guides themselves. It is evident that the Administrator, Harry L. Hopkins, sincerely hoped that the guidebooks would be able to continue on and have quite a large impact on the American public, especially young American students. According to Bill Ganzel of Living History Farm, the impact of the WPA Guides was indeed vast and grand. Ganzel quotes Fortune Magazine with regards to the WPA Guides, speaking of the “sort of cultural revolution in America” that the guidebooks were said to have brought about (Ganzel 1). He goes on to say, “These notes went well beyond traditional guides,” which relates to the flowery language used throughout the guidebooks in general.
- Agee, “The American Roadside” (42)Throughout the Great Depression, many aspects of America as we know it today were just beginning to take shape. The American system of highways and roads is a crucial element that was in the process of forming during the 1930s, specifically. Authors Agee, Berkowitz, and Jakle collectively examine both the roadside development and the tourism that occurs. The notion of the roadside, including road systems and highways, is particularly interesting when paired with leisure and vacationing.
In “The American Roadside,” James Agee discusses the importance of the road as it relates to the lives of the people who often interact with it. Both the road and the automobile provide Americans with a sense of comfort and stability as they move through their lives, and it is thus said that the American roadside is “the greatest road” (Agee 43). In terms of the contradiction and irony that the automobile presents, it is written that “It [the automobile] was good because continually it satisfied and at the same time greatly sharpened his hunger for movement” (44). The automobile appears to shape the roadside, working with the notion of movement and forward motion, in order to allow the American people to propel their lives forward literally and figuratively.
Continuing with the concept of the impact of the road and the automobile, Michael Berkowitz speaks of this in relation to American tourism and leisure, in “A ‘New Deal’ for Leisure.” There is a certain amount of irony in the “depression-era tourism expansion” that is mentioned, for even though the nation was undergoing a rough economic time within the Great Depression, tourism, vacationing, and other expensive forms of leisure and recreation seemed to flourish (Berkowitz 185). The “movement for paid vacations” is interesting as well, in that it incorporates the use of transportation systems such as the road, highway, and the railroad in order to occur (187). Thus, the onset of leisure served to improve the onset of certain transportation systems in America.
In addition, John A. Jakle writes about the highway with regards to the tourist in “The Tourist: Travel in Twentieth-Century North America” after World War II. He notes, “Pent-up buying power and increased leisure time after World War II served to flood North American highways with vacationers” (Jakle 185). The various readings of Agee, Berkowitz, and Jakle tie together the crucial connections forged between the roadside, leisure and tourism, and the American people of the Great Depression and post-World War II.
- Daniel Walden, “Nathanael West: A Jewish Satirist in Spite of Himself” (1)
Author Nathanael West includes a generous amount of satire in his novel A Cool Million. Such a strong and eye-catching use of satire stands out to the reader, adding a layer of complexity to the text. In order to properly examine the use of satire, it is important to define the term (according to Dictionary.com) as such: “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.” With that in mind, it is evident that as the novel progresses, West maintains an air of satire with regards to the character of Lemuel Pitkin – a concept which is expanded upon below.
Such satire is mainly concentrated on the character of Lemuel “Lem” Pitkin, a boy who bears witness to vast amounts of harsh turmoil and trouble throughout his life experiences, for even as the situations Lemuel finds himself in continually worsen, Pitkin’s attitude remains (unusually) optimistic and almost joyful. For instance, within A Cool Million, Lemuel is first introduced as “our hero…a strong, spirited lad” (West 69). Later, it is written that Lemuel “was a fair-dealing lad himself and he thought that everyone was the same” (78). Lemuel exhibits an impressive amount of strength when it comes to viewing both situations and other individuals as positive, speaking to an unwavering faith and optimism.
It is this very sense of optimism that West ridicules and exaggerates, in order to ridicule the optimism of Horatio Alger’s literary works on a grand scale. In the article “Nathanael West: A Jewish Satirist in Spite of Himself,” author Daniel Walden addresses this situation. Walden states that “In true Horatio Alger, Jr. fashion, Nathan “Shagpoke” Whipple, an ex-President with a phony cracker-barrel philosophy, assures Lemuel Pitkin that everyone can be a Rockefeller or a Ford” (1). The previous statement reveals the notion that as an author, Nathanael West gives some of his characters a large, unrealistic sense of optimism in order to get a jab in towards Alger and his writings. The character of Lemuel in particular conveys this optimism through thick and thin, even as his love, Betty, is abused and as Lemuel himself suffers both physically and emotionally.
- Daniel Aaron, Introduction to The Disinherited by Jack Conroy (xi)Jack Conroy, the writer of the novel The Disinherited, concentrated largely on the subject of the working men of the 1930s and their various struggles. Through his writing, the plight of the working-class was revealed to a greater extent, centering on the life of relative simplicity and basic survival that was adopted by many, in order to cope with the difficult struggle to find employment, food, and shelter each day.
According to writer Carla Cappetti of the Solidarity organization, “Jack Conroy is the Twain and the Hurston of the U.S. working class” (Cappetti 1). It is evident that Conroy made quite a name for himself, specifically with regards to his exploration of the life in relation to work. Cappetti goes on to remark on Conroy’s impact in terms of the writing style and form, speaking of the “worker-writer literary tradition he [Conroy] represents” (1). The connection between Conroy and the working class extends far and wide.
In the Introduction (to The Disinherited), written by Daniel Aaron, the idea of Conroy working to maintain a general sense of simplicity and a strong work ethic is brought up as he is advised to not become a snobby “literary gent” (Aaron viii). This relates well to the author Tom Kromer (Waiting for Nothing), which we discussed last class. Both Kromer and Conroy appear to have had some level of intellectualism and education to begin with – Kromer was once a elite college student while Conroy’s parents were immersed in the intellectual world and academia, as we find out in the Introduction (xi) – which they promptly disregarded in order to venture out on their own and join the world of the working-class.
With regards to Conroy’s writing of the novel The Disinherited, Aaron refers to it as an “American picaresque novel” (xii). This sentiment may be linked to the idea that there are many adventures that take place as the working class characters in the novel go through their various journeys. The novel is also said to relate to the personal mental shift that many of the workers adopt over time: “social unawareness to militant class consciousness” (xii). In a broad sense, Jack Conroy embraces the struggles and adventures of the 1930s working-class, highlighting their lifestyle in his writings and giving a voice to both the physical and mental states of the men at hand.
- Hugh Crawford’s “On The Fritz: Tom Kromer’s Imagining of the Machine” (101)Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing captured my interest immediately due to the writing surrounding distinctions between the upper class and the lower class. To have an (almost entirely) autobiographical sketch of the life of bums and such who were struggling to find work and survive the Great Depression was quite eye-opening. As I started reading Waiting for Nothing, the author’s transition from a life in the intellectual, wealthy realm to one of struggle stood out. As the University of Georgia Press points out in their description of Kromer and his novel, there is a "powerless frustration of working-class people" that Kromer depicts (1).
Within the novel's Autobiography, Kromer writes, “my people were working people” (Kromer xxiii), which shows that his personal journey was actually quite full circle. In fact, “my father never hoped for anything better in this life than a job” (xxiii). When Kromer became a teacher for a period of time, it appears that he encountered a certain student, Emil, who exemplifies the contrast between upper class life and working class life. It is said that Emil was a star pupil and yet “wanted to do nothing in school or in life but catch flies and pull these wings out” (xxiv). The previous statement demonstrates the divide that may occur between the intellectual, high fluent life and the working, grounded life. I am interested in the difference between the two lifestyles, especially as it applies to Kromer’s personal life.
In the article “On The Fritz: Tom Kromer’s Imagining of the Machine” by Hugh Crawford (example: opening quote), Kromer is said to have been “riding the rails as one of those panhandlers” (101). It appears that Kromer was lived the life of a man struggling through the 1930s in a very accurate manner, as he was subjected to much turmoil. Fittingly, Kromer writes in Waiting for Nothing that in terms of his luck, he was “down so far I don’t know how far” (14) and he was also frequently called a “goddam bum” (5) as well as a “lousy bum” (45) throughout his travels. There is a certain amount of judgement, clearly, that goes into these statements, revealing just how morose and intense life on the streets might become. Those that were wealthy enough to maintain their affluent and intellectual lifestyles were at times judgmental of the men who were ‘bums’ and struggling day to day; as one wealthy man said to Kromer, “I ain’t got no money for bums” (96).