Monday, April 14, 2008
Whose Names Are Unknown
Written at the same time of Grapes of Wrath about the same subject matter, Sanora Babb's book did not get published until a few years ago. The supposed reason was that humanity just couldn't handle another sad story about the sorry luck of the Midwest farmers during the dust bowl and depression of the 30s.
I learned many things that I didn't know that much about the depression. Very similar to the earlier Homestead Act, the government gave buffalo grazing land in the midwest, 320 acres, to anyone who would live on it, build a house on it and farm it. The drought-like conditions and its wind, in addition to all of the plowing, produced the life-sucking dust that ruined most of the area's farmers. I had always thought it was a freaky natural disaster and hadn't considered the man-made contribution. The loss of opportunity, loss of land, loss of trade, loss of collateral produced the desperate "okies" that migrated west looking for work. Another black mark on our own country's history, these "okies" were segregated out of the schools, the community and forced to work for pennies a day.
The most frustrating thing to me while I read this is that these people had no other options. They had to farm or do manual labor. Yes, the were oppressed. They were treated unfairly during a horrible time. Yet,some of these unlucky farmers could see the bigger picture. With that big picture in mind, they forced their children to go to school (where they were treated horribly for being dirty - because they had no place to get clean) so that they would have better options than they themselves had. Their children, however, recognized the struggle of their parents...how much their labor helped secure food and money and hated going to schools where they were despised and mocked.
You'd think this was all lose/lose, but the author showed how in the midst of all these struggles, that common decency, hope, love, genuine kindness still existed. It's hard to believe that this happened in our own country less than a hundred years ago.
If you can't tackle Grapes of Wrath (even if you can and have) this is worth your time.