1902 Steinbeck was born 27 February in Salinas, California.
1929 "Great Crash" on Wall Street, start of the Great Depression
1930 Steinbeck married
1937 OMAM published
1940 First marriage breaks up
1962 Steinbeck awarded the Noble Prize for Literature
1968 Steinbeck dies of heart disease
The Great Depression
On October 29 1929, millions of dollars were wiped out in an event that became known as the Wall Street Crash. The world economy was plunged into the Great Depression. By the winter of 1932, America was in the depths of the greatest depression in its history.
The Depression crippled the country from 1930 - 1936. People lost their life savings when firms and banks went bust, and 12 - 15 million men and women - one third of America's population - were unemployed.
The number of unemployed people reached upwards of 13 million. Many people lived in primitive conditions close to famine. One New York family moved into a cave in Central Park. In St Louis, more than 1,000 people lived in shacks made from scrap metal and boxes. There were many similar Hoovervilles (after the US president of the time, Herbert C Hoover) all over America. Between 1 and 2 million people travelled the country desperately looking for work. Signs saying 'No Men Wanted' were displayed all over the country.
There was then no dole to fall back on, so food was short and the unemployed in cities couldn't pay their rent. The American economy did not fully recover until the USA entered the Second World War in December 1941.
Causes of The Great Depression
- As early as 1926, there were signs that the boom was under threat - this was seen in the collapse of land prices in Florida. Eventually, there were too many goods being made and not enough people to buy them.
- Farmers had produced too much food in the 1920s, so prices for their produce became steadily lower.
- There were too many small banks - these banks did not have enough funds to cope with the sudden rush to take out savings, which happened in the autumn of 1929.
- Too much speculation on the stock market - the middle class had a lot to lose and they had spent a lot on what amounted to pieces of paper.
- The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 was a massive psychological blow.
- America had lent huge sums of money to European countries. When the stock market collapsed, they suddenly recalled those loans. This had a devastating impact on the European economy.
The collapse of European banks caused a general world financial crisis
Effects of The Great Depression
- Unemployment - 13 million people were out of work.
- Industrial production dropped by 45 per cent between 1929 and 1932.
- House-building fell by 80 per cent between 1929 and 1932.
- The entire American banking system reached the brink of collapse.
- From 1929 to 1932, 5,000 banks went out of business.
Although many people went hungry, the number of recorded deaths from starvation during the Depression was 110, although many other illnesses and deaths were probably related to a lack of nutrition.
Migrant Workers and Ranch Hands
Added to the man-made financial problems were natural ones. A series of droughts in southern mid-western states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas led to failed harvests and dried-up land. Farmers were forced to move off their land: they couldn't repay the bank-loans which had helped buy the farms and had to sell what they owned to pay their debts.
Many economic migrants headed west to 'Golden' California, thinking there would be land going spare, but the Californians turned many back, fearing they would be over-run. The refuges had nowhere to go back to, so they set up home in huge camps in the California valleys - living in shacks of cardboard and old metal - and sought work as casual farmhands.
Against this background, ranch hands like George and Lennie were lucky to have work. Ranch hands were grateful for at least a bunk-house to live in and to have food provided, even though the pay was low.