When one comes to think of it, the economical disaster of the thirties was quite easy to predict; completely devastated from the WWI, on the one hand, and being on the verge of the outbreak of the WWII, on the other hand, the entire world was slowly pulling itself together for the disaster that was going to strike. For some states, however, the Great Depression meant more than another economical breakdown.
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In the United States, the years of the Depression set the industrial North and the agricultural South even further apart, not to mention the fact that death rates across the state went through the roof. To make the matter worse, severe dust bowls, wind from the prairies, ruined the States’ hope for better harvest for another couple of years.
Because of the parallels that Timothy Egan drives between the thirties’ economical devastation and the exhaustingly dry wind from the prairies, the economical disaster, which was prior known to an average American of the XXI century only from history books, suddenly takes a specific and threatening shape, therefore, becoming more tangible and allowing to evaluate the scale of the catastrophe that swept the U.S. in the 30ies.
Apart from the metaphor of the Great Depression as the dust bowl that swept the economy of the entire nation away, Egan’s book has a number of intriguing elements that make one return to Timothy’s discussion of the devastation of the U.S. again and again.
Egan not only creates a pretty idiom but also stretches it further to represent more links between the dust bowl and the Great Depression without shying away from the differences between the two phenomena; moreover, Egan uses these differences to the advantage of his story.
Among these, the origin of the disasters should be mentioned. Egan stresses several times that, in contrast to the dust bowl, which is caused by nature, the Great Depression was entirely human-induced.
While Timothy does not draw the final conclusion at this point of his speculations, allowing the readers to make their own conclusions, it is rather clear that the idea of being responsible for the effects of one’s actions, especially if these effects take a nationwide or even a worldwide scale, is implied: “Books such as How to get Rich on the Plains explained how any investor could double his money in just five years” (Egan 20).
Remarkably unsettling and clearly aimed at shocking the reader into paying attention, the book may seem disturbingly dark and, therefore, somewhat artificial, which one may consider its basic flaw. On second thought, however, the atmosphere that Egan manages to build in the process of telling the story of the most complicated era in the history of the USA, serves its purpose perfectly well.
In addition, to be honest, the Great Depression did cause numerous deaths of starvation and poverty in the United States, and silencing these facts would have been unfair: “The high Plains never recovered from the Dust Bowl” (Egan 309).
Moreover, when one comes to think of what exactly makes such great impression on the reader, not the shocking facts listed by Egan, but the objectivity, with which the author analyzes them, as well as the fact that Egan does not make hasty conclusions about the Great Depression and the people who were responsible for it come to the fore.
Instead of passing judgments, the author provides a careful analysis, which cannot trigger any reproaches concerning the author’s political commitments; as Egan would put it, “[…] the sheriff had no time for politics” (Egan 106).
Eventually, one should give credit to Egan’s ability to create likable and relatable characters. While one might complain about the characters lacking personality, they are still fleshed out relatively well, and, when reading Egan’s book, one can feel that what the author describes has really happened.
As little character development as the story suggests, one can still feel the emotions that the characters feel, and empathize with each of the people described, which is arguably even more important than creating a complete character arch.
For example, the readers only know that William Carlyle “built a dugout in 1915 for his family” (Egan 37), yet they relate to this character after learning how hard he worked and what a devoted father and husband he was.
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After all, Egan never thought most of these people up – they had, in fact, exact prototypes in real life, and, in Egan’s defense, one must stress that he never resorted either to using the stereotypical image of a South dweller, or to ruining these stereotypes on purpose – instead, he merely disregarded them, thus, making the South-related clichés less powerful than they used to be.
Of course, it would be wrong to assume that Egan owes the success of his book solely to the metaphor that he used to get the main point across; quite on the contrary, the book is packed with other means of expression, including not only idioms but also a very compelling story, relatable characters and a cohesive manner of storytelling.
However, the connection between a dust bowl, the terror of the prairies, and a dust bowl, the economic disaster of the Great Depression, remains the glue that keeps the book together.
By comparing a natural phenomenon that causes disastrous effects with the phenomenon of the same effect induced by people, Egan makes the readers realize that the dire effects of the Great Depression were not only inevitable but also necessary for the further evolution of the United States and the entire world.
Having learned to anticipate the outcomes of their actions, even though with the help of such a harsh lesson, the North and the South were finally able to reconcile and set their differences aside for better cooperation.
Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived in the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston, MA: Mariner Books. 2006. Print.