Popular Culture and Literature During
The 1930s saw the marked growth of mass culture as citizens
sought diversion from their troubles. Most popular culture centered
on escapist themes and/or humor. In film, comedies were the most
highly attended of all genres. The Marx Brothers became huge stars, often
appearing in farcical productions depicting get-rich-quick schemes.
Radio shows also became immensely popular during this period, so
much so that the 1930s is often called the Golden Age of Radio.
Magazines similarly provided popular diversion. Life magazine
began publication during the 1930s, filling its pages with pictures
of spectacular scenes and glorified personalities.
Literary work of the 1930s focused on the rejection of
the notion of progress and a desire to return to an earlier age
of purity and simplicity. John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes
of Wrath, glorified a simple, rural way of life. Jack Conroy’s The
Disinherited, a 1933 chronicle of an average industrial
worker’s life in the Depression Era, conveyed disillusionment and
cynicism. William Faulkner also emerged as an important American writer,
examining southern life in novels such as A Light in August,
published in 1932, and Absalom! Absalom!, published
Disillusioned with capitalism, many intellectuals and
writers—including Langston Hughes, John Dos Passos, and Ernest
Hemingway—formed allegiances, direct and indirect, to the
Communist Party. Along with other intellectuals, these writers joined
the Popular Front, a political group active in aiding
the leftist forces in the Spanish Civil War against fascist powers.
Hemingway’s 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls,
portrays the life of an American soldier fighting in the Spanish
Civil War against a fascist dictatorship.
The Great Depression in an International Context
It is important to note that the Great Depression was
a worldwide phenomenon. Though struggling Americans mostly focused
on domestic matters during this period, the U.S. did not exist in
a vacuum and faced an array of international challenges.
By the early 1930s, nearly every nation in the world had
sunk into depression. One of the most significant political responses
in Europe was the rise of fascism, which advocated strict socioeconomic
control. Fascism emerged most notably in Italy and Germany, under the
leadership of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler,
respectively. Spain endured a civil war from 1936 to 1939, in which
fascist forces under Francisco Franco defeated the
leftist republicans, ushering in thirty-six years of fascist rule.
One international response to the Great Depression
was the rise of fascism in Germany under Hitler, Italy under Mussolini,
and Spain under Franco.
U.S. International Relations in a Depression Era
During the 1930s, FDR pursued a primarily isolationist
course, concentrating on domestic programs. In 1933 he announced
the “Good Neighbor” policy toward Latin America, in which
he stated that no nation, including the U.S., had a right to interfere
in the affairs of any other nation.