Book Review: “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl” by Timothy Egan
This examination takes a historical interest of the effects of the boom and settlement in the high plains of America. What role did the “American Dream” play in the boom and settlement of the high plains, the creation of the Dust Bowl itself, and the people’s reaction to the Dust Bowl? The discussion explains the situation via the framework of a book review of Timothy Egan’s ‘The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.’ We cannot prepare our minds to realize how awful this experience must have been for the people. Hopelessness is far worse than drudgery. But courage is truly a noble thing. People process their deepest emotional attachments to their land, viewing it not as merely a life source, but a living part of their world, which can inspire courage or shake a soul to its fearful foundations. The above specific thesis, in this first paragraph, anticipates proving its truth throughout the focus of this body’s paper.
The connection is spiritual. The earth and its people have always arranged an unspoken claim upon a mutual relationship. Timothy Egan understands this. In the opening, scenic description of the text Egan challenges readers to take a stroll into his world – a real world, wherein you may not survive. Egan explains “when the wind stops blowing across the face of the southern plains, the land falls into a silence that scares people in the way that a big house can haunt after the lights go out and no one else is there” (1). Immediately, we know the land is sick. The feeling Egan so exquisitely expresses, makes the reader sense a closeness to the land much as if it were a human friend. When a loved one is ill, you really feel quite scared in those moments. One role the “American Dream” played in the boom and settlement, was that of a friend, mentor, or partner.
The American Dream collected and constructed the hopes of its many multi-ethnic inhabitants, in the high plains area. A profound statement Egan uses as a literary device is when he says that the Comanche Indians were afraid. This fierce, proud people equally as dependent upon the good graces of the land’s bounty as the folks in “Twitty, Texas, or Inavale, Nebraska” (2). Since the land is part of their lives during the prosperous times, it is equally part of their lives when it seems so deathly, dusty, and nakedly withdrawn. Although the people who stayed despite the desolation of the dust, the ones who stay confronted the situation with courage. But they seemed almost to be awestruck, and harbored a terrible sense of betrayal of the land. This is particularly evident when Egan describes that “the land convulsed” and they had never seen such before – but still the people were “trying to make sense of why the earth turned on them” (2). The very language Egan employs shows he has created a spiritual bond between the people who stayed, and the land itself.
It matters little whether their life experiences were in boom times, or the busted times of disaster after settlement. This is where they landed. This mid-southern plains is where they intended to re-plant seeds of hope into their hearts, minds, and into the soil when better days returned. When the soil ‘greened’ up, they planned on continuing their pursuit of the “American Dream.” Louise had designed a new life for herself, as best she could. It probably was a tiny miracle that she had survived at all. The conditions she met with in Colorado City, where a plethora of “English-accented patients fleeing the foul industrial air of urban Britain” told a sad tale of those who had not survived. After the days of the Great-1929 Depression had set in, Louise was anticipating future, cheery days building a life together with her rancher husband, and young daughter, Jeanne. This spirit of gladness fled any conscious expression of it outwardly, though. Louise is well-acquainted with the misery of the dust permeating every pore, and clogging every thought. Egan’s description of how the powdery dirt-comprised dust affected every area of their lives.
Louise suffered, as did others in the community, from the caked insides of nostrils. The dry irritation in their noses, was just a single sign of the bleak reality. The dust so inhabited the physical crevices of all the people, and whatever animals which were left alive, after the others had died. Egan is keenly aware of the geographical disaster that a dust storm can bring, especially one that affects the land’s fertility, the people’s health, and stifles their hopes and dreams of finding a little piece of heaven – in this land called America. Egan portrays the sense of dust invading every space quite masterfully. He writes “On the skin, the dust was like a nail file, a grit strong enough to hurt. People rubbed Vaseline in their nostrils as a filter. The Red Cross handed out respiratory masks to schools. Families put wet towels beneath their doors and covered their windows” (7). In terms of an historical event, the Dust Bowl situation devastated the health of everyone.
The biggest event we can relate to in these modern times is how the Katrina Hurricane event affected so many people. You cannot truly imagine what that must be like, unless you live to survive the situation yourself. The mood had to have been emotionally searing, and very sad to have to constantly cover your eyes and use grease to sooth the inside of your nose. Egan does a great job of making the reader feel the absolutely horrifying tension of having to live in a place, where you refuse to leave. It is important to remember that these were the brave souls who made a firm decision to stay. Hordes and hordes of people had not merely left the vicinity, but they had violently clamored to escape the nasty conditions that were so contrary to the idea of living a healthy life. This proves how attached to the land the people were, treating it as it were a friend. They revered the land and each other. The situation brought to bear a whole new level of how important the land was to them. The respect the y held for the land was deeply spiritual, because they had made a commitment to die with the land, or survive to nurture her back to health.
They would live together or die together. The people’s reactions proved formidable and strong. This inner strength of toughness held a kind of beauty which Egan has captured so well with his literary skills. Historians appreciate this work for its wonderful, full-bodied portrayals too.
Egan, Timothy. The worst hard time: the untold story of those who survived the great
American dust bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Col, 2006. Print.