The most obvious effect of the Great Depression on ordinary Americans is that it threw so many people out of work. We think the current unemployment rate of around 9-10% is bad, but during the depression is actually reached 25%. Many people lost their life savings when the stock market crashed in 1929, and the banking system became unstable and lost the confidence of the people.
For the characters in The Grapes of Wrath, the difficulties were intensified by the environmental phenomenon known as the “Dust Bowl.” The Dust Bowl destroyed farm and ranch land, making the tenant farming system unprofitable. This resulted in the eviction of many sharecroppers from land they had lived on for generations. Many of them, like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, joined an exodus west for rumored jobs in California.
The New Deal was President Roosevelt’s attempt to fight the Great Depression. He stabilized the banking system, and created programs such as the Civil Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration to employ millions of out-of-work Americans. The New Deal helped people but did not end the Great Depression. It took years of struggle and World War II to do that.