What is the thesis for The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan's main thesis is to assert that both the government and private business sectors are responsible for the horrible Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The government is to blame for passing the Homestead Act of 1852 in an attempt to settle the Great Plains. However, the government is not primarily responsible, because the government was also pushed into issuing the homestead act by railroad companies that were looking for ways to expand their businesses. The Great Plains was the only area in the US in which train tracks were not laid out, so if the area was settled, the new population of people would need to use the railroad to both buy and sell goods, allowing the railroad businesses to grow. The great fault in the homestead act and the greedy desires of the railroad companies lies in the fact that the area was completely uninhabitable. The area was far too arid for farming; it was nothing but a layer of dirt held in place by a layer of grass. It was also a severely windy area without a tree in sight to stop the wind. So, when the homesteaders dug up the grass as the government proposed they should, they dug up the one layer they had to protect themselves from the wind's potential to blow around the dust, leading to the Great Dust Bowl. We can most clearly see his thesis stated in the first chapter:

The last homestead act was a desperate move, promoted by railroad companies and prairie state senators, to get people to inhabit a place that had never held anything more than a few native hunting camps and some thirteenth-century Indian villages. (p. 4)

However, settling land in the Great Plains did not always lead to difficult times. In the 1920s, farmers were actually greatly prospering from their proceeds, which inspired even more homesteaders to settle and created a wheat boom as financially significant as the California Gold Rush. But soon, drought hit, which was very normal for the area, leading to the Dust Bowl.

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