Popular Culture and Literature During the Depression
Popular Culture and Literature During the Depression
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 in 1936.
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.
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