There are many theories around the causation of the infamous Dust Bowl. Some researchers believed it was caused by too much farming without giving the land a chance to grow again, while others believe it was simply a freak drought. But, what we do know is that the Dust Bowl was located in the south in states such as Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Severe dust storms ravaged the land and made it nearly impossible to live in the affected area, so many farmers packed up all their belongings and moved to California. John Steinbeck is the author of Grapes of Wrath, a classic novel about a family surviving the Dust Bowl.
Steinbeck claimed that political or economic power played a part in creating the Dust Bowl, such as through the Great Depression, the desperation caused by the lack of money across the country, and the uneasiness harbored in the states outside the Dust Bowl contributed to its formation.
First of all, as stated above, the Great Depression was one major cause of the Dust Bowl. The Great Depression was a time where many workers lost their jobs and their income, due to the crashing stock market. This can be seen in Grapes of Wrath when it states, “Fifty cents isn’t enough to get for a good plow. That seeder cost thirty-eight dollars. Two dollars isn’t enough” (Steinbeck 117). Like other workers, farmers were unable to keep up the same income as usual, and in turn, they had to sell some of their tools and buy new ones of a lower quality in order to keep an income coming through.
Because of this, the land was not taken care of as it should have been, and the topsoil became infertile and easy to be blown around in the wind. Next, this can be seen when The Worst Hard Time states, “Using the public-works dollar…they could form community farming districts, where everyone would agree to practice a strict set of conservation rules” (Egan 225). To summarize, if able to use public-works funds to fund farming districts, farmers all around the country would follow a strict set of rules to keep the land healthy. But, due to the Great Depression, the funding was spent on other things, and therefore the farming land went ungoverned, inadvertently contributing to the Dust Bowl.
Furthermore, the desperation caused by the lack of money due to the Great Depression was another factor in the creation of the Dust Bowl. Many families were so distressed about maintaining some sort of income that they would do immoral, almost unspeakable acts to get a few dollars. This can be seen in Grapes of Wrath when it states, “One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families.
Pay him a wage and take all the crop” (Steinbeck 44). Back in the 1930s, a lot of the farming land was simply rented out to share croppers. When the stock market went under, the owners of said land began to look for cheaper ways to keep their farms running, and turned to artificial machinery, such as tractors. In the process, they ended up running out many families, leaving them homeless and starving for their own survival.
In addition to what was stated previously, this is seen when it states, “Three dollars a day. I got damn sick of creeping for my dinner—and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat” (Steinbeck 51). Like the owners, many families were turning against their own kind- the poor and starving- in order to survive. Some even ended up driving the tractors that ran them out. Tractors were very harsh on the land, and subsequently they sucked the life out of it with ease, making it another factor in the Dust Bowl’s formation.
Finally, the political unease in the states outside of the Dust Bowl was another factor in its creation. Many states were unaware of what the Dust Bowl even was, and others underestimated its destructive power. This can be seen in The Worst Hard Time when it states, “There was much skepticism about spending tax money on such a venture. Weren’t there enough New Deal public works and farm relief programs to help those…in the High Plains?” (Egan 226).
As stated previously, many people didn’t understand how badly the Dust Bowl was affecting those within it. So, they were understandably hesitant to send any help to the areas affected. Lastly, this can also be seen when it states, “Shattered lives littered the land… Why should the dust-ravaged plains get special attention?” (Egan 227). As mentioned earlier, the Dust Bowl also happened alongside the Great Depression. Because of that, many people around the United States were struggling to get by, no matter where they lived. Because of that, many refused to help aid those stuck in the Dust Bowl, causing it to continue to get worse for a long while, contributing to its formation.
As the evidence suggests, the Dust Bowl was created by political or economic power. Economic power can be seen through the Great Depression and the desperation caused by it; because of the lack of funding anywhere in the country, the land got destroyed due to low quality, cheap equipment. Also, many people turned their backs to their families to make a quick buck and drove tractors, something that destroyed lives as well as the land.
Political power can be seen through the other states’ uneasiness about helping those in the Dust Bowl. Many people at this time had to worry about themselves first, so they were unable to help anyone else, leading the Dust Bowl to continue on for longer than necessary, as it possibly could have been prevented. With this information, one can only be sure that these factors all played a part in the Dust Bowl’s creation.
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