American Literature and the Great Essay

Pages: 4 (1245 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

The first of these authors, Zora Neale Hurston, published her first major anthropological work Mules and Men in 1935, just as the Federal Writer's Project was getting underway. Mules and Men is a piece of literary anthropology, and in it Hurston attempts to record the folk tales of the South, and particularly of rural blacks, "before it's too late" (Hurston 8). Hurston's desire to record these folk tales in the wake of the Great Depression demonstrates quite a different response to the Depression than Steinbeck, because where Steinbeck's work seems to mourn the loss of an almost idealized pre-Depression world, Hurston recognizes that the world before the Depression was not especially positive (at least for blacks), and thus it is her duty so salvage whatever positive things emerged from this troubled history rather than focus specifically on the trauma. In Mules and Men, Hurston seeks to preserve some of the literary production of the pre-Depression era South, because the overwhelming trauma of the Depression makes it clear that certain historical circumstances can so scar a society that it loses key elements of its culture if they are not intentionally recorded and secured.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Essay on American Literature and the Great Assignment

This focus on retaining the positive elements of a troubled history is actually one point of contention between Hurston and the final author to be considered here, Richard Wright. Where Hurston attempts to secure the cultural products of the African-American community prior to the Great Depression, Wright is explicit in his condemnation of the entire social order that contributed both to the social conditions prior to the Great Depression and the event itself. For example, in his 1940 novel Native Son, Wright attempts to demonstrate the seemingly insurmountable, deep-seated structures of racism and discrimination that constrained the fate of young black men following the Great Depression. Where Steinbeck focuses on the shock of loss faced by poor white farmers, and Hurston attempts to safeguard the literary history of poor black citizens, Wright looks toward communism and new movements of racial and ethnic solidarity as a means of overcoming the difficulties faced by individuals living in the 1930s.

When considering the work of John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright in conjunction, it becomes clear that the image of the Great Depression and its effects on American Literature is far more diverse and complicated than is frequently represented. While John Steinbeck's work, and particularly The Grapes of Wrath, is often considered indicative of the Great Depression's affects on American Literature, in fact this only represents one small facet of the literary response. Zorah Neale Hurston confronted the trauma of the Great Depression by attempting to safeguard what little cultural heritage was left to black Americans living in the rural South, and ultimately produced works of literary anthropology that greatly expanded the general public's understanding of and appreciation for the black experience in America. Furthermore, Richard Wright's work responded to the Great Depression not by lingering on anything in the past, but by looking to the future in order to see what hope, if any, there was of improving the lot of black Americans. Thus, the Great Depression affected American Literature not only by providing certain thematic, narrative, and stylistic inspirations, as in the case of John Steinbeck, but also encouraged writers to explore previously unconsidered perspectives and subject matter, particularly related to the experiences of black Americans before, during, and after the Depression.

Works Cited

Ahern, John, and Alexa Sandmann. "Literature and History -- a Focus on the Era of the Great

Depression and World War II (1929-1945)." The Social Studies 88.6 (1997): 277-82.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Penguin Books: New York, 2006.


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APA Style

American Literature and the Great.  (2012, May 13).  Retrieved June 24, 2021, from

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"American Literature and the Great."  13 May 2012.  Web.  24 June 2021. <>.

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"American Literature and the Great."  May 13, 2012.  Accessed June 24, 2021.