Voices of the 1930s

Alfred Kazin

Clifford Odets

Sherwood Anderson

Irwing Howe

“With my mother every morsel of life was paid for in fear. You calculated the price of everything before you bought it, and even if you bought it, you could not enjoy it for thinking how much it cost you.” – Alfred Kazin

“I entered [college] in September 1929, just a month before the famous Black Thursday that helped to touch off a depression that by the time I was ready to graduate four years later found one out of every four employable persons out of work.” – Irving Rosenthal

“Hardly a day passed but someone was moving in or out. Often you could see a family’s entire belongings – furniture, pots, pans, bedding, a tricycle – piled up on the sidewalks because they had been dispossessed.” – Irving Howe

“It is a bit odd, isn’t it, dear reader, that the American cry, ‘Make good! Make good!,’ that we all heard when we were boys – that I dare say boys are still hearing – that it so often leads to a kind of blindness. I know. At various times in my life I have been prosperous. I have made some money, have good clothes, a car, a warm house. I have been that way and I have been broke, and always, for some curious reason, I have always, when broke, been more alive to others, more aware of others.” – Sherwood Anderson

“To be poor is something that happens; to experience poverty is to gain an idea as to what is happening. Once my father’s grocery store went bankrupt in 1930 and he became a ‘customer peddler’ trudging from door to door with sheets and linens, we were often very poor, living together with uncles, aunts, and grandmothers to save rent. Yet I had no very acute sense of being deprived. Only after I had begun to go to high school did the idea of poverty start creeping into my consciousness, and I learned to regard it with the familiar blend of outrage, shame, and ambition. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I began to buy a magazine that was printing Sherwood Anderson’s reports about hunger in the North Carolina textile towns, and I would read these articles with tears of indignation, barely aware of the extent to which I was perhaps feeling sorry for myself. The realization of what it meant to be poor I had first to discover through writings about poverty; the sense of my own handicap became vivid to me only after I had learned about the troubles of people I did not know.” – Irving Howe

“The depression had a personal meaning for each one of us – at home, in school, in our interests and aspirations. We were part of a generation that had known fantastic prosperity in the Twenties, only to see near-starvation all around us in the Thirties. We knew what breadlines were, CCC camps for youths who couldn’t be prepared for non-existent jobs, and apple-sellers on almost every street corner.” – Irving Rosenthal

“Radicalism in our part of the city seemed more than marginal exotica. It had a place and strength of its own, almost everyone seemed to be a Socialist of one sort or another.” – Irving Howe

“You have been taught to think that when you are out of work it is just your misfortune. ‘Business is bad,’ ‘there is a depression,’ they say. ‘Nobody is to blame.’ You are given to understand that economic powers are beyond human control. You are told that a depression is something like an earthquake, like a thunderstorm, like an avalanche.” – Mossaiye J. Olgin

“What’s the answer, boys? The answer is, if we’re reds because we wanna strike, then we take over their salute too! Know how they do it? (Makes communist salute) What is it? An uppercut! The good old uppercut to the chin! Hell, some of us boys ain’t even got a shirt to our backs. What’s the boss class tryin’ to do – make a nudist colony outa us?” – Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty

“There is a willingness to believe, a hunger for belief, a determination to believe. […] If the leaders we are now throwing up into places of power do not lead along new roads, if they fail us, the failure will not be due to a lack of belief. We have got this rich land and this people rich with this new hunger for belief. The outstanding, dominant thing now in almost all of the Americans I have been seeing is this new thing, this cry out of their hearts for a new birth of belief.” – Sherwood Anderson

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