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Julie  Toland

John Steinbeck’s Depiction of the American Loss of Innocence
The Bonus Army’s March on Washington in 1932

John Steinbeck wrote fictional stories about poor and migrant workers during the Great Depression. A great American author, Steinbeck details the horrific poverty surrounding the Depression. He depicts people’s struggles and their hope for survival in order to explain human nature. His novels portray American society, which chooses to ignore the problems of the poor and rather instead focuses on selfish issues. This contradicts the American ideal that all are created equal and offered the same opportunities. The theme of his writings illustrates the death of innocence due to society’s neglect of the destitute and migrant workers of that time. Innocent characters in Tortilla Flats, Of Mice and Men,, Cannery Row,, and The Pearl, all die because of societal neglect. Steinbeck’s novels call society to change and be more aware of all of its members.

The Great Depression in 1932 brought poverty to many Americans, including the veterans of World War I. The financial struggle for food and clothing caused many veterans to become panic stricken and desperate for help. The men turned to their government for payments for their services in the war. However, the under the law, men could not receive payments for their services until 1945. The men decided to take their protest to the capital of the country, in Washington, D.C. The veterans hoped to persuade Congress to deliver payments early. Thousands of veterans, led by Walter Waters, marched to Washington to petition Congress. The government feared the veterans because of the possibility of communist threats, public rioting and epidemics. President Hoover called on General Douglas MacArthur to evict the protesters. MacArthur successfully removed the protesters by gathering armed troops to disperse them. However, MacArthur gained too much power under his command when evicting the veterans, and created controversy. The indebted veterans were forced home to their unemployed and poverty-stricken lives, only to receive their payments in 1936. The Bonus March took place during the lowest time of the Great Depression and illustrates the difficult lives of unemployed and poor workers during the 1930s.

Major Works Consulted:

Dickson, Paul and Allen, Thomas B. The Bonus Army: An American Epic. New York: Walker, 2004.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin, 1993. ---. The Pearl. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Waters, W.W. B.E.F.: The Whole Story of the Bonus Army. New York: AMS, 1970.
Photo Credit: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Adventures in American Literature: Athena Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996.


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