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Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 38 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression.
This section contains 498 words
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Purchase our Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression Study Guide

Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression Summary & Study Guide Description

Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel.

Plot Summary

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel is a panoramic chronicle of the 1930's, comprised entirely of interviews. It provides a top to bottom vision of the Depression, from the establishment that coped with the crisis to the hustlers and hobos that scraped by through it. Written in the late 1960's, the book also includes interviews with younger people. In his prologue, Terkel explains that the time has come to speak to the ignorant young about catastrophe.

The first of Hard Times' five books gives an overview of the Depression. It begins discussing the veterans' Bonus March in Washington that put the nail in the coffin of the Hoover administration. On one hand, it deals with the traveling culture of hobos and itinerants and the means by which families survived. On the other hand, in the chapter The Big Money, Terkel shows how the affluent dealt with the Crash of '29. The book ends with two chapters that discuss the rise of labor unions in the United States.

Book 2 focuses on the means Americans used in the 1930's to survive the Depressions' depredations. This book includes inspiring tales of sheltered persons who lose nearly everything and find their humanity. It also profile hustlers, con men, and bootleggers who survived by any means necessary. Terkel focuses on two groups of Americans that were particularly vulnerable: coal miners and farmers. In these sections he explores how their pain was alleviated to some extent by unions and government intervention, respectively.

The establishment of the Depression is the focus of Book 3 of Hard Times. Terkel begins by interviewing power players and brain trusters of Roosevelt's New Deal. He goes on to discuss other major players in the political situation of the time: Huey Long, Dr. Townsend, and Alf Landon specifically. He also interviews players in the leftist movements of the time: Communists, Catholic workers, Wobblies and the like. In this book, Terkel seems to refute the notion that a socialist revolution was brewing in America.

The brief Book 4 concerns the approach of World War Two and its effects in ending the Great Depression.

In the final book, Terkel brings his gaze sharply to the way people survived personally. We learn of unemployment councils that helped evicted persons, lawyers and judges that bent laws to ease poor peoples' pain, and public servants that faced public anger and accusations of Communist sympathy to help communities. Terkel talks to artists of the Federal Arts Project. He ends the book speaking to people of individualism and self-determination. He seems to ask whether a person could scrape by on his or her own.

Throughout the book Terkel juxtaposes the wounded voices of Depression survivors with the more confused words of the young. His epilogue does just this: a young man wonders what wound the hard times left on his father. An older woman wonders if the children of the sixties will enact the change her generation could not.

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This section contains 498 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression Study Guide
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Hard Times; an Oral History of the Great Depression from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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