Literature during the great depression (5 interesting reads)


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Page last updated: 24/09/2022

Literature during the great depression (5 interesting reads)

This article will discuss the literature during the great depression, effect of the great depression, literature work during the time of great depression as well as some of the FAQs regarding the topic.

Literature during the Great Depression:

  • Let us now praise famous men by James Agee and Walker Evans
  • Miss Lonelyhearts and The day of Locust by Nathaniel West
  • Come back to Sorrento by Dawn Powell
  • They shoot horses, don’t they by Horace McCoy

Great Depression

It was a phase of crash in market stock in 1929 and went worse in the 1930s. The phase is a worldwide economic turndown that hit so badly and was considered as the longest and most severe type of depression ever experienced by the Western World countries. Some fundamental changes in the economic institution have sparked or triggered the downturn of the economy. 

Despite its major consequence or the triggering point in the USA, the effect of it was experienced worldwide such as loss of employment, a drastic drop in output, deflation etc. 

For the people of the USA, it is the harshest or most severe adversity they have ever experienced after the civil war.


Literature is used as a term that describes the written and spoken materials. The word is derived from a Latin word “literature” which means “ writing formed with letters”. The word literature is often used to refer to works of imagination, creativity and arts such as drama, fiction, fiction, poetry etc.  

Importance of literature

Literature and literary works are significant for different reasons and it is different from genre fiction that is read or referred solely for the purpose of entertainment, fun and as an escape mechanism.  

  • It represents the tradition as well as the culture of a particular group of people or a language.
  • Literature provides a blueprint about human society
  • Gives insight and context about the world’s society.
  • It serves to provide an experience of introduction to a new world.
  • It is often linked or associated with the immediate or current social, moral, economic and historical ambience prevailing in the society.
  • With the use of the different poetic devices and literary tools, it often portrays the societal structure and their ambience.

Because of these different reasons, literature is considered to be an important and integral part of a society through which one can propagate and expand their culture and traditions.

That is why people search for the perfect books that portray historical events like the great depression.

Causes of the Great Depression

The Great Depression was caused by different events that had happened in the USA, initially beginning from the fundamental economic changes that have happened in major economic institutions, economic theory and macroeconomic policy.

Following are the major events that have happened resulting in Major Depression in the USA that has resulted in drastic consequences all over the world.

  • Panic in banking and failure of banks in the US  and around the world from 1930-1933. 
  • Drastic drop and decline in the spending that results in low production
  • The decline in the money supply caused by US Federal Reserves
  • Great of Crash of 1929
  • Maintained of Gold Standard
  • Smoot Hawley Tariff Act: the act imposed a steep tariff on most of the industrial and agricultural goods thus resulting in retaliatory measures that lead to reduced output as well as contraction of global trade.
  • International lending and trades
Literature during the great depression (5 interesting reads)

These are some of the reason due to which America, as well as the rest of the world, have to undergo severe impact of the great depression

Effects of the Great Depression

Some of the effects of the Great Depression that has spread in the US itself as well as to rest of the countries are:

  • The economic crises have spread from the USA to Rest of the World resulting in trade decline.
  • There was a noticeable and abrupt decline in the living standard of people across the world.
  • Demand, as well as supply for goods and services, drop-down resulting in unemployment even in highly industrialised countries.
  • Industrial production also dropped down resulting in low Gross Domestic Products and widespread unemployment.
  • Abandonment of Gold Standard.
  • There was an expansion of welfare states, labour unions and their communities in the USA as well as in the rest of the countries.
  • Establishment of US Security and Exchange Commission to increase government’s involvement and supervision in financial markets.
  • There were implementations of providing economic relief and reforms thus increasing the role of the federal government. 

So these are the major effects of the Great Depression in the lives of many people in America, to the community itself, their economy and even to the rest of the world in terms of trade and economy. 

Great Depression and Literature

Each major event in USA history was linked to the production of unique literary works and since the great depression was one of the most severe economic crises or chaos that the country has ever experienced, it is for sure that many writers and poets have produced a range of artwork.

The content of their work differs individually where some of them wrote much about the situation they are in during the time whole others crafted much of their works about the situation Americans were stuck in and battling with.

Proletarian Literature

These are the type of literature which is composed by working-class that entails 

The economic disparity in the country at that time where the majority of the wealth was accumulated by a small group of richer or wealthier sections. 

Their work basically supports and stands in favour of the working-class people and advocates economic cooperation over competition and rivalry among different sections. 

The theme that they develop and propagate became the hallmark of literature during the depression era.

Some of the authors who belonged to the proletarian literature are:

  • John Dos Passos
  • James T Farrell
  • Erskine Caldwell
  • John Steinback

Two major events that influence the state of literature during the initial phase of depression are:

  • World War 1

The end of world war one which is believed to be the war to end all kinds of wars placed major influences on the development of literature during the time of great depression. The limelight of literature during that time was the aftermath or consequences of the world war. 

  • Roaring twenties

It is believed to be the long-lasting economic boom ever in the history of weather countries. This major event in the history of America also places a major influence on the growth of literature work. 

In the twenties, the major focus or the topic that was of main interest are media, industry, media etc. There was also a boom in the fiction works and interest in literature. 

The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel that was published in the year 2925 which was published a few days before the beginning of great depression centralised its theme on the wealthy and privileged nature of American’s dream and the very weak lasting of this dream. 

Apart from these two events, other movements and evans also influence the literature around the time such as the rise of fascism in Europe, Harlem Renaissance and etc. The two events mentioned above were found to be the biggest influence on literature and artwork in Western society in particular as well as to other countries. 

Effect of the Great Depression on Western Literature

The great depression affected western literature and artwork across the world in a plethora of ways. To understand the effect it had on the literature, we can look into it through three different perspectives, economic, social and political.


Literature served as a way for some authors to expire their support for the communist party of the USA and confront their disfavour to failure of capitalism. The League of American Writers that emerged in 1935 also spoke against the fascism prevailing in Italy and Spain since the beginning.

Ernest Hemingway was one such writer who is known for his influential work during the period of depression where most of his work stressed on the events of the Great Depression and other events happened around the time. Some of his fictional work includes Green hills in Africa, Death in the Afternoon were published during the recession while A farewell to Arms was centralised on the themes related to World War 1.


In consideration of the economic effect of Depression on literature, there wasn’t any serious effect or impact on literature, however, the economy being the central focus, much of literary works are focused on the economical issues.

The U.S.A is a set of the novel that was published by John Dos Passos that focuses on the socioeconomic system in America. Another major theme of his work is the crushing of capitalism in America. The book as a whole talks about the economic situation during the time of the Great Depression and the perceived failure of Capitalism.


The grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was one of his greatest works that emphasised on the human condition at that time. His work also laid its emphasis on the working class labours, the struggle of the working-class and their living condition. Like-minded like him also worked on the interest with similar writing, such as people like Nathaniel West, Henry Miller etc. 

In an overview, the literature went through a drastic change in dealing with the Great Depression phase. There was a massive focus on the social-conscious authorship during the time of great depression caused by the increased public awareness for the mainstreaming of media and literature as well as the plight of depression experienced by people around the world. 

It was known that the most influential as well as an important novel in the 20th century in regards to the radio, television, cinema and entertainment were released during the plight of the great depression. 

Some of the common themes that were discussed during the time of the Great Depression are Gone with the wind, Grapes of Wrath etc. thus, the great depression in an overview, has provided a creative writing style to the writer, fresh subjects and a logical perspective of the great depression. 

FAQs: Literature during the great depression

What sort of literature was written about the Great Depression?

The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939 by John Steinbeck was a powerful and realistic work that was a kind of literature that was there during the time of the Great Depression.

What were some important literary works during the Great Depression?

Some of the important literature work present during the Great Depression are:

Let us now praise famous men by James Agee and Walker Evans
Miss Lonelyhearts and The day of Locust by Nathaniel West
Come back to Sorrento by Dawn Powell
They shoot horses, don’t they by Horace McCoy

What occurred during the Great Depression?

Some of the major events that have occurred during the time of the Great Depression are drop in the consumer’s spending and drop in investment, steep decline in industrial output, laid-off workers, rise in major illnesses etc.

Who is blamed for the Great Depression?

President Herbert Hoover is blamed by most of the people for the occurrence of the Great Depression.

How many people died because of the Great Depression?

Around 7 million people died during the period of the Great Depression.


Linde, S. (2016). Literature in 1930s America.

Lombardi, E. (2020). What Literature Can Teach Us. ThoughtCo.

Wright, C. (2017). How did literature change during the Great Depression? Quora.