Endangered Dreams (Magill Book Reviews)
Kevin Starr, is State Librarian of California and a leading authority on California history. ENDANGERED DREAMS is the fourth in his multivolume chronological study entitled AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM. The previous volumes were AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM, 1850-1915 (1973), INVENTING THE DREAM: CALIFORNIA THROUGH THE PROGRESSIVE ERA (1985), and MATERIAL DREAMS: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THROUGH THE 1920’S (1990).
ENDANGERED DREAMS begins with the labor wars of the nineteenth century, when the Communist Party was active in agricultural, transportation, and industrial labor strife. It concludes with a description of the San Francisco World’s Fair and America’s entry into World War II ending the Depression.
Starr presents his history as an ongoing conflict between “the oligarchy” and the masses of Californians who all had different dreams. Retirees dreamed of peace and security in an idyllic climate. The “Okies” dreamed of owning a piece of rich farmland and putting down roots. Workers dreamed of dignity, decent wages, and humane working conditions. The lower-middle-class population dreamed of enrichment and upward social mobility in a land of opportunities. Politicians of leftist and rightist sympathies dreamed of becoming senators, governors, and presidents.
The oligarchy had grandiose dreams and the power to fulfill them in such modern wonders as Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate and Oakland-Bay bridges, the...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
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Endangered Dreams (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
To many Americans, the Great Depression in California is almost synonymous with John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Steinbeck had the genius to see the epic qualities in the great migration of dispossessed farmers across the plains and deserts in their overladen jalopies. He also had a passion for social justice that gave his book a strong thesis. The novel was doubly effective because it was made into a beautifully photographed, highly successful film by famous director John Ford. In Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California, Kevin Starr discusses Steinbeck’s novel from the perspective of the 1990’s and makes it clear that The Grapes of Wrath, though an inspired work of fiction, told only a tiny portion of the story of California’s Depression years and a distorted one at that.
For example, Steinbeck charged that California fruit and vegetable growers were papering the Dust Bowl with handbills in order to attract more pickers than they needed, thereby forcing down wages to the near-starvation level. According to Starr, no one has ever been able to produce a single handbill of the kind Steinbeck described, although they might be valuable collectors’ items by now. Starr is persuasive when he argues that it would have been foolhardy for the big agricultural interests to attract such a potentially revolutionary army of indigents to California for a short-term windfall profit. He claims that the...
(The entire section is 2053 words.)