Dow English

Take an interest in the future. You will spend the rest of your life there.

Great Depression

The novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during the Great Depression.

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash of 1929 and lasted until 1939. The worst economic downturn in history, the decade was defined by widespread unemployment and steep declines in industrial output. President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the crisis with a series of federal programs known as the New Deal, which included the Social Security Administration and the Works Progress Administration.

The Great Depression badly affected the American people because there wasn?t a welfare system for unemployed workers. Between 1929 and 1933 money income fell 53% and as a result, demand fell considerably. This led to lower levels of production and an unemployment rate of 25% by 1933. By comparison, in the beginning of 2010, the unemployment rate was about 10%.

The Great Depression did not plunge the USA into instant poverty but it did affect everyone in the country, in particular the unemployed. Even those who had jobs were unsure of the future and may have had their wages or working hours cut.

Excessive credit powered the economy in the 1920?s and so during the great depression credit availability began to tighten and loans were called in. Consumers who had taken advantage of the credit during the 1920?s found themselves unable to make monthly payments. Therefore repossessions of houses, cars, household goods, and furniture became common.

Consumers who had taken advantage of credit sometimes were unable to meet the monthly payment and repossession of automobiles, furniture and household goods became common.

Even the rich did not escape the effects of The Great Depression. Many had substantial investments in the stock market and losses varied depending on how those investments were structured. However, some of the richest families, like the Kennedy family, were virtually unaffected by the great depression. But many found their fortunes wiped out, literally overnight, in the crash.

Automobile sales also fell dramatically. In an attempt to encourage sales, General Motors used advertisements built around the idea that ?one car sale would keep a worker employed for another 3 months?. However, not many people had the money to go out and buy new cars during the Great Depression and those that did had little interest in buying a car simply to a keep a worker employed.

Use the following links to view photos and videos of the setting and times of To Kill a Mockingbird.


Southern Towns

What was life like in a town like To Kill a Mockingbird's setting of Maycomb, Alabama?  In the 1930's there were no cell phones, no computers, no televisions.  People mostly got their entertainment by listening to radio shows.  In big cities there were movies; however, in the Deep South, small towns did not have movie theatres. They also did not have paved roads, which wasn't too much of a problem because most people didn't even have a car.

Click on the following sites to get an idea of what it was like to live in such a town.

Read the following:

The Rural South in the 1930s

By Andy Wofford

Dateline: 1930s in Post Ridge, a town along the Mississippi Delta

Post Ridge was a sleepy, delta cotton town 'bout 10 miles from the Mississippi River. Sometime during the thirty's the highway department put up a road sign. It was a small two line sign. "Post Ridge / Pop 54." I never did know where the post was, and of course in delta land there's not a ridge for miles and miles. Lots of swamps but no ridges. Post Ridge was a plantation town. Seems like most everybody had a place out in the country, but lived in town. I now call myself a "child of the depression." But we never knew bout it, cept sometimes we heard the old folks talking about cotton for 4 cent a pound. I musta been bout 20 before I knew I was a "child of the depression," when I was up North and began to see the "real live Republicans."

And speaking of Republicans. Everybody in Post Ridge that voted, voted a straight Democratic ticket, except nobody ever voted for Mr. Huey Long. He wanted to give all the po folks 40 acres and a mule. The folks in Post Ridge were afraid it would come out of their land and their mules. Anyway we had gravel roads and dirt sidewalks. After the Kingfish was shot we got a day off from school and the next year we got blacktop roads but no sidewalks.

There were few laws. Cattle, dogs, cats, chickens and children roamed free. You had to drive pretty careful or you'd run over somebody's milk cow. My Daddy said he could always tell when a cow was going to cross the road by the way it switched its tail, but I never did figure it out. The street lights went out at 9 or 10 so you had to be careful walking home or you'd run into a cow or worse step in its cow-flop. Except for the winter we were always barefoot so stepping in a cow flop or chicken dodo wasn't what we were liked to do. I suppose today with all the chickens raised by Mr. Perdue and Mr. Thurston people don't have that problem anymore. Probably most people today never even saw any live chickens.

Saturday was a big day. All the field hands were off and came to town to shop or whatever. Most all came in wagons, but they dressed up. On Saturday we must have had over a 1,000 people so you know the town was filled up. There were bout 6 or 7 general stores, sometimes owned by the plantation owners.

There was a railroad running through town. A passenger train went east in the morning and came back thru that evening. We got mail off the train, but I never saw any passengers to or from Post Ridge. So bout 1935 a two-car diesel train replaced the steam train. It was a funny looking thing and we called it the "doodle bug." However, we still had a freight train that came thru town. It had a handsome steam engine that burned oil instead of coal. I thought the engineer must be bout the smartest feller there was. He liked us kids and would blow steam at us if we got too close to the cowcatcher.

I learned something from that train, too. Folks said if you killed a snake its tail would twitch till sunset. Well just before the train came thru we killed a snake and tied it to the rail. Boy that tail didn't twitch after the train ran over it. So I knew I couldn't believe everything somebody said.

Our school had all the grades in one building, cept we didn't have kindergarten. Must have been bout 60 kids in the whole school. Bout half came on school buses. We had two. One went north from town and the other south. They were trucks with homemade bodies for the kids to ride in. The one that went north was painted blue so we called it the "Yankee Blue Heaven." We called the one that went south "Dixie Bell." There were usually less than ten students in each class. In grammar school each teacher had two grades. One had study period while the other had class. Course we always listened to the other class if it was interesting, and made good grades the next year. So you might say we spent two years in each grade, but never failed!

If you misbehaved you got sent out the room or to the principal's office. Sometime you even got a spanking. But we never told our folks at home, cause then we'd get another one. I got sent out the room a lot. But if I heard the principal coming down the hall I'd leave or hide until he was gone. My older brother Rob got sent out just once, and wouldn't you know it, the principal caught him. He got a good talking to and the principal ended up by asking him, "Why aren't you good like your little brother?"

Everybody called one another by their first name. If it was a grown-up it was Mr. or Mss, like Mr. Ralph or Mss Lilly. I don't think there was a better place in all the world to grow up in. And the grown-ups, they all loved all the kids. Yes sir. Post Ridge was a most wonderful place!