How might the Great Depression have influenced the characters in Chapter 1 of A Long Way from Chicago?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Great Depression might have influenced the lives of the characters in a number of ways. One way is in the living conditions of the people in the little Illinois town where Grandma Dowdel lives. Grandma's house is typical in the rural town. The house is rundown and is stiflingly hot in the summers when Joey and Mary Alice come to stay, and there are no indoor toilet amenities; "you had to go outside to the privy." Although the automobile has been invented and is available for sale, few people own them. As Joey notes,

"Most farmers came to town horse-drawn, though there were Fords, and the banker, L.J. Weidenbach, drove a Hupmobile."

In the absence of opportunity to travel or enjoy other more expensive modes of entertainment, the people in the town go to The Coffee Pot "to loaf, talk tall, and swap gossip." When the train comes by on the Wabash Railroad tracks, the citizens stand out on the porches to see it pass through.

There is mention of tramps in this chapter; Joey says "tramps didn't seem to mark (Grandma Dowdel's) fence post," indicating that in some places in town they do. Shotgun Cheatham is one of these individuals who are down on their luck, and he dies "penniless" and is headed for "a Pauper's Grave." Shotgun's coffin is made of plain green pine, and the bill for his burial will be sent to the county ("Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground - 1929"). 

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A Long Way from Chicago

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