Original photo by Dorothea Lange: here
It’s one thing to read about the Great Depression and the desperation, the families being upheaved from the only home they’ve ever known, the poverty. It’s another thing to see it all manifested in front of your eyes. Dorothea Lange, a documentary photographer, travelled the country taking photos of the impacts the Great Depression caused, and now we can analyse them and really see what was happening at the time. These photos can also help us understand the situation in John Steinbeck‘s novella Of Mice and Men.
There is a very somber and depressing mood in this photo, what with the content, an Oklahoma farm family travelling to California to find work, and the other visual elements Lange captured on camera. The family’s clothes are dirty and worn-out, the eldest child doesn’t have shoes on while the other child is missing a shoe, their luggage is battered and very small for a family of four, and there isn’t much unity in the photo as the dominant element, the family, seem to be displaced and lost. This really shows the hardships they must have experienced as migrant workers; working extremely hard a day or two for pay just enough to get the gas and food until the next stop. The children probably don’t have shoes on because the parents don’t have enough money to buy new ones, and their suitcase is like that as a result of hard travel without many belongings to carry in it.
This situation was happening to many farmers at the time, and can be seen in Of Mice and Men happening to George and Lennie, ” ‘They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look forward to’ ” (Steinbeck 13). Travelling days to get to a new ranch and earn a meager salary, only to spend it and do it all over again.
The background also contributes to the mood and the story the photo is telling. The shabby buildings seem to be abandoned, the empty highway frames the photo with absolutely no signs of life other than the family, and there is a tossed out brick lying on the side of the road. This tells us that because of the Great Depression, people have abandoned their homes and upkeep of the highway has been neglected. This photo tells us so much without words, literally showing what life during the Great Depression was like instead of telling us.