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Of Mice and Men

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Kathleen Parent

on 29 January 2013

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Transcript of Of Mice and Men

Dust Bowl For eight years dust blew on the southern plains. It came in a yellowish-brown haze from the South and in rolling walls of black from the North. The simplest acts of life — breathing, eating a meal, taking a walk — were no longer simple. Children wore dust masks to and from school, women hung wet sheets over windows in a futile attempt to stop the dirt, farmers watched helplessly as their crops blew away. The Dust Bowl Drives Workers West Due to drought, tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried in storm clouds for hundreds of miles. The driest region of the Plains became known as the Dust Bowl, and many dust storms started there. But eventually the entire country was affected. By 1934, it was estimated that 100 million acres of farmland had lost all or most of the topsoil to the winds. Dust storms were terrible. Winds were clocked at 60 mph. The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face. People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk... We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. The statistics tell the story.
•Normally, the state of Nebraska averages around 20 inches of rainfall a year.
•In 1930, Nebraska got 22 inches of rain, and the state's corn crop averaged 25 bushels per acre.
•In 1934, Nebraska saw the driest year on record with only 14.5 inches of rainfall. The state's corn crop dropped even more to only 6.2 bushels per acre.
In other words, between 1930 and 1934 rainfall dropped 27.5 percent, and as a result corn crop yields dropped over 75 percent.
Three million people left their farms on the Great Plains during the drought and half a million migrated to other states, almost all to the West. Traveling to Find Work Many people forced off the farm heard about work hundreds of miles away. Often the only way they could get there was by hopping on freight trains, illegally. More than two million men and women became hoboes. Riding the rails was dangerous. At least 6,500 hoboes were killed in one year either in accidents or by railroad "bulls," brutal guards hired by the railroads. Most hoboes would hide along the tracks outside the yard. They'd run along the train as it gained speed, grab hold and jump into open boxcars. Sometimes, they missed. Many lost their legs or their lives. As the train was reaching its destination, the hoboes had to jump off before a new set of bulls to arrest them or beat them up. But no amount of clubbing or shooting could keep all of the hoboes off the trains. In many cases, the hoboes had no other choice but to hop a freight and look for work. Traveling to Find Work Hitchhiking was legal and slightly safer, even if it was more uncertain. In later years, hitching developed into an entire subculture. Actually, hitchhiking had been known from the earliest days of the automobile. When the Depression hit, the numbers of hitchhikers exploded. By 1937, one writer estimated that at least one man in 10 had hitchhiked once in his life. by John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men History and Background Desperate for jobs, and tired of struggling to eke out a living on their dying farms, Okies turned to bulletins sent by California farmers promising an abundance of farm work opportunities in the Golden State. 300,000 Okies set off for California in search of work. When they got to California, however, instead of family farms where they could lend a hand until they obtained some land of their own, the Okies found "land monopoly and agriculture on an industrial scale". Looking for Work Looking for Work As migrant farm workers, Okies proved themselves to have a vigorous work ethic in their daily struggle to make enough money to survive on. They worked and traveled in families, harvesting crops familiar to them, like cotton, potatoes and peas as well as new fruits and vegetables that they had never seen before. Many Okies worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for starvation wages with which they could barely support themselves, let alone an entire family. In addition to having to accustom themselves to an entirely new range of crops, Okies also had to get used to working side by side with Chinese, Japanese and Mexican immigrants. Finding a Place to Sleep Whether picking fruit or doing field work, all migrant Okies needed a place to stay. When they first arrived in California, migrant Okies lived in ditch camps set up by farmers in the ditches beside roads. The ditches were unsanitary and often covered in a permanent layer of water and mud. Many Okies living in the ditches suffered from pellagra, asthma or other lung diseases. In 1936, however, the Farm Security Administration saw the need for relief and began construction of 12 camps in the San Joaquin Valley for migrant Okie families. Each camp held 2,000 to 3,000 people, cost $1 a week in rent, had hot showers, flush toilets, breakfast for children for 1 cent a day and a one year maximum occupancy rule. Facing Discrimination Another part of the Okie experience was discrimination. Most camps and subdivisions were located close to towns or small cities and Okies encountered much discrimination and bigotry when dealing with local Californians. Okies competed with residents for jobs and their presence led to increased taxes (the sanitation budget, education cost, and property tax all rose with the sudden influx of Okies). Farmers who hired Okies were often especially cruel. Farms produced more food than could be picked or sold, yet instead of allowing the starving Okies to have some of the surplus, farmers burned it to make Okies move on. Some hospitals would not treat Okies or their children and in schools, many times Okie students were ignored or harassed by teachers and bullied by classmates. Discrimination Against the
Mentally Ill and Handicapped People with mental illnesses and disabilities often faced even more discrimination. Little was known or understood about their condition by people in the general public. They were often viewed fearfully, as dangerous or unstable people. Some were fearful that they could "catch" the mental illness or disability and would shun those different from them. Discrimination Against the
Mentally Ill and Handicapped Although it had come a long way from the days of simply restraining and locking away the mentally ill, psychiatric care in the 1930s was still very limited. There were a few different types of shock therapy: insulin, Metrazol and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). All of these therapies induced seizures in patients. Many psychiatrists claimed that these therapies worked by "shocking" patients out of their illness.

These treatments didn't generally cure schizophrenics, depressives and others of their mental illness; most were in and out of hospitals or ultimately spent their entire lives inside them. In addition, hospitals in the United States were overcrowded -- by 1940, there were around 1 million patients and the population was growing by 80 percent per year [source: Dully]. Conditions were also deteriorating due to a lack of funding during the Great Depression. Public hospitals were understaffed and patients were often left without any kind of treatment. People embraced the idea of a speedy, simple cure and were hopeful that surgery could provide it. New Medical "Cures" The lobotomy is a type of neurosurgery, or surgery performed on the brain. The idea behind it is that severe forms of mental illness can be treated by changing the way that the brain works. Doctors believed that by severing the connections that the frontal lobes, or prefrontal cortex, had to the rest of the brain, they could calm patients' emotions and stabilize their personalities without doing away with their intelligence and motor functions. A lobotomy was intended to sever the white matter between different areas of gray matter. (Another name for lobotomy, leucotomy, means "slice/cut white" in Greek.)

The first lobotomies were performed in 1935. Initially, doctors drilled holes in the skull on either side of the prefrontal cortex and injected the connecting fibers with alcohol to destroy them. In 1936, a new technique that was faster, more accessible and less expensive, was practiced where doctors would get to the prefrontal cortex through the eye sockets instead. Finding a Place to Sleep As men traveled from farm to farm finding work, they often lived in bunkhouses on the farms. These were similar to a military barracks. They were large, usually single room structures that house anywhere from 8 to 25 men. Each man would have a bunk, or bed, of his own, often a lumpy mattress made of straw. He might have a drawer or chest to hold his belongings. There would be a table and chairs, and other common areas for the men to share. Although bunkhouses were better than ditch tents, they were often sparse and lacked privacy. How did migrants survive? Despite the harsh working conditions, uncertain job future and sparse living conditions, migrants survived by banding together. Families traveled and worked together, and men made friends with those in the bunkhouse. At night, workers and families would sing songs, play music, play cards and other games, tell stories and just chat about the day and life in general. It was these relationships that helped them combat loneliness and stay focused on their dreams and goals.

"Of Mice and Men" is a story highlighting one unique friendship during this challenging time in history. Facing Discrimination Sadly, it was not just Okies who faced discrimination. In the 1930's many non-whites were victims of discrimination and prejudice. Although things weren't quite as dangerous in California as they were in the South, African Americans, Latinos and Asians faced many challenges. They included segregation, being paid lower wages than Whites, more difficulty finding work, and facing all kinds of derogatory language. If life was bad for the Okies, it was often worse for non-white migrant workers.
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