For the Educator

John Steinbeck once commented that the decade of the 1930s in America read like a script. It had three defined structural parts: a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning came suddenly and unexpectedly with the crash of the stock market in October, 1929. The middle played out with the intensification of life-shattering dust storms, the despair of a broken economy, job loss, and rampant poverty. The end was a build up toward war and the dramatic “curtain call” of Pearl Harbor.

The disasters that hit America in the 1930s brought upheaval in the political spectrum as well. It could be argued that the political scene of the time mirrored the structure of the larger script: the beginning saw the Hoover administration condemned for failure to cope effectively with the disasters; the middle, starting with the election of 1932, brought in Franklin D. Roosevelt and the reclaim efforts shaped by his “New Deal” programs; the end saw growing criticism and rebellion against some of FDR’s “socialist” programs and the shift into a war preparation mode. As many historians have observed, America would be – perhaps forever – a different place after the decade of the 1930s.

The following questions and activities are forged to help students expand their understanding of the shifting political framework of the 1930s and the New Deal as part of the backdrop for study of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

For the Student

  • Following the Crash of 1929, President Herbert Hoover introduced a few changes in his policy of government, but by and large maintained the policies and general philosophy of government that he had advocated and followed since the beginning of his administration.

    Working with a collaborative partner, construct a brief written analysis of Hoover’s basic approach of “volunteer individualism” in government. Include, as well, reference to some of the economic factors, for instance, international economic crises that eroded the success of Hoover’s policy.

  • FDR hit the ground running when he took office in 1932. Within the first 100 days, according to National Archives records, fifteen pieces of major legislation were put in place in his rapid fire effort to restore the health of the nation. Historians generally think of the New Deal as having two parts: the first part dedicated to bringing broad strokes of immediate relief to the devastating issues plaguing America; the second part putting strategies in place for the reshaping of public policy in America. FDR’s New Deal is often referred to as the “alphabet soup” program because of the wide collection of acronyms labeling the titles of the agencies created for the above-stated purposes.

    Collaborate with two or three classmates to develop an overview of FDR’s introduction of the New Deal and the target areas of the various agencies and programs created to effect recovery and reshape public policy, recognizing that many of the programs put in place under that auspices are still cornerstones of present day public policy.

    Consider parceling out the references listed below for individual collaborative members in your group to research, then pooling specific information on each topic to create the above overview:

    FDR recognized that to get the public to understand and accept the federal government’s level of “invasion” into public and private affairs that his initiatives required, he had to launch an immediate marketing blitz. He undertook this challenge on several fronts. Develop a brief written background explanation of the mission of each of the following “marketing” devices:

    “Fireside Chats”, via radio
    NRA “Blue Eagle” stickers, flags and pledges (to be displayed in residential and business windows)
    An NRA New York City Parade
    A range of advertising posters

    Briefly define the responsibilities of each of the following agencies that represent some of the major initiatives FDR put in place as part of the New Deal:

    AAA - Agricultural Adjustment Administration
    CCC - Civilian Conservation Corps
    FDIC - Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
    NRA - National Recovery Act
    WPA - Works Progress Administration

  • Sketch an informal statement, to be entered in your notes, that reflect your understanding of some reasons the following occurred:

    FDR’s initiatives launched in the New Deal were enthusiastically endorsed at the beginning of his tenure. As recovery from the Great Depression took hold, however, FDR’s recovery and reform measures increasingly drew sharp criticism and generated hostility and tensions.

    Include in your statement a brief explanation of what groups continued to back FDR’s programs and what groups attacked them and the main reasons behind these disparate positions.

  • Develop a three to five page essay in which you explain the background and/or implication of one or a segment of one of the following assertions. Shape a one-sentence thesis to serve as the controlling purpose for development of your essay:

    Several of FDR’s public policy initiatives which changed the face of America in dramatic ways still govern various aspects of contemporary public life, particularly policies related to such aspects as unionizing, entitlement programs, fair practices in industry, deposit protection, farm subsidies – to name a few.

    Fear, in various forms, took shape during the 1930’s, but one of the strongest fears among many in the populace was of the strong “leftist” movement that seemed to be taking hold. In the eyes of many, the New Deal seemed to be creating a climate for promoting such a movement.

    A related fear, perceived by many, to be an agent of the “leftist” movement was the infiltration of communist advocates – “Red” recruiters, who were particularly active among the migrant groups on the West Coast.

  • Consider launching a class discussion about how you and your classmates would have responded to Roosevelt’s Great Depression “reclaim” policies.

Next: Federal Project One



Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

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