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The Four Winds


The Great Depression

The Great Depression was a crisis where the stock market crashed in August 1929 in the United States, shattering a period of tremendous economic growth. Several financial crises accompanied the downturn. The Depression lasted a whole decade, from 1929 to 1941. The Depression hit the hardest when the commercial banking system collapsed in 1933, forcing then-President Roosevelt to declare a nationwide banking holiday. In 1937, economic recovery halted due to a double-dip recession marked by broad changes to the financial system. The recovery to total output and employment happened during the second world war.

The Dust Bowl

The United States experienced the worst droughts in the country in the 1930s. Approximately 75 percent of the country, together with sections of Mexico and Canada, were impacted by the droughts, which are remembered for the frequent dust storms that broke out in the Southern Great Plains. The crisis lasted between 1930 and 1940. These dust storms resulted in severe erosion. The farms nearby were destroyed by the sand drifting from the open fields. Farms close by were harmed by sand drifting from open fields. Small farmers use more of their land for farming; thus, they are more unlikely than giant farms to invest in erosion prevention. In 1937, the government created soil conservation districts that aided in the organization of erosion prevention.

The Four Winds

The Dust Bowl and the consequent westward exodus of farmers suffering from drought are the subjects of Kristin Hannah’s historical book The Four Winds, published in 2021. The Four Winds explores hardship, prejudice, economic disparity, and the American dream through the lens of one family caught up in the grand stretch of history (Kristin, n.p).

The Four Winds is captured when the United States of America was experiencing a crisis from two fronts; the Great Depression and the dust bowl. At the same time, the world was at risk of another war, World War II, only a decade after the occurrence of world war I. Indeed, this was an unstable historical time for the United States and the entire world at large.

The historical period captured by both phenomenon and the novel was a period of severe uncertainties characterized by countless mass protests and hunger marches. Unionism became the order of the day, spreading like wildfire. However, most of the population was shy to come out loud to air their grievances because they were ashamed of their poverty. Chicago was the most hit by the Depression, and the high unemployment rate of about 40 percent proves the severity of the crisis.

We look into the story of Wanda Bridgeforth from the Bronzeville area called Black Metropolis. She claims to have many fond recollections of the years. Before bad times hit, it was a comparatively wealthy neighborhood where jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Ida B. Wells resided. Wanda reiterates that during the Depression, it was tough to get a job, but it was harder to get a job if you happened to be black. Wanda’s father had a degree in chemistry, and even with such qualification, there were no jobs to do. This was humiliating for him, and Wanda’s mother resorted to taking any available job to feed her family. Therefore, her mother worked as a live-in domestic worker, and Wanda had to be boarded out while she was in grade school. Wanda lived with relatives, sometimes with strangers, and her mother assured her that it was the only way they could survive and stay alive. She recalls a time when they lived with nineteen people in a house with only six rooms, enabling Wanda to learn to share and cooperate with others.

The story by Wanda Bridgeforth gives us a picture of how things were before the crisis hit America. Consequently, the Four Winds also paints that picture as the author introduces us to a young lady raised in Texas when economic growth was booming. In the novel, Rafe, the husband to Elsa, runs away, leaving behind a devastated family. Later, Elsa goes ahead to secure a job at a cotton-picking after moving to California’s San Joaquin to make a living for her family. Consequently, Wanda’s father feels humiliated for not getting a job, and the wife has to work to support the family at the expense of his shame. The two scenarios display tough times and the groups in the society that are most vulnerable when crises happen. For this case, we note that children and women suffer the most in times of crisis, for example, the psychological trauma and physical stress that Wanda had to go through while living with relatives and, to an extent, strangers (Neenah, n.p).

Unemployment is eminent in Wanda’s experience of the Great Depression. She recalls that Chicago was severely hit to the point that the unemployment rate rose to 40 percent of the population, and men could not get jobs. There is also discrimination against people at this point. Wanda is particular that the discrimination was racial as her father’s chances of getting a job were much lower because he was black. Consequently, Elsa meets the same troubles of; absence of jobs and discrimination when they move to California’s San Joaquin Valley with the primary objective of seeking medication after being advised by the doctor in Texas.

Poverty hit Elsa’s family in the Great Depression, so they had to live as squatters in a camp where she promised they would only stay temporarily. However, this was not temporary because of the scarcity of jobs and meager wages that forced Elsa to settle in the camp for a long. The situation is no different from Wanda’s case, where poverty hit them similarly.

The tough economic times taught Wanda about cooperation and sharing with others. Sharing and cooperation were vital for survival for a young girl who had to live with relatives and strangers because their family could not survive the tough times alone. Wanda and her counterparts shared resources that were available to survive, and a good example is when they had to leave 19 people in a single house with only six rooms. Similarly, Elsa also discovered a tight community of fellow migrants where she made friends with a woman called Jean Dewey, who taught her survival tactics at the camp and shared her resources with her.

Inequality is also eminent during this period. Jean, Elsa’s friend at the camp, lost her child during birth because of the inequity and discrimination in the camp.

Wanda noted that numerous protests and hunger marches marked the period during the Great Depression, and unionism spread and became the order of the day. Similarly, there were unions organized by Jack, a union organizer, and his counterparts at the camp with the significant agenda of fighting for fair pay. Elsa’s resentment at their unfair treatment boils over when Jean contracts typhoid and dies due to a lack of medical attention. She is prepared to strike. The company where Elsa worked called Welty threatened to cut their salaries. Still, protests went on successfully until the next day when Elsa met her death after being hit by a teargas canister during the second day of the protest.

Themes in the novel, The Four Winds

The American dream

The American dream was accurately embodied at the beginning of the twentieth century by Rose and Tony Martinellis. They were immigrants who came to America with few means but worked arduously and devotedly to become prosperous farmers. They maintain that adversity is a normal part of life and that they can triumph over the difficulties through faith, even in the face of terrible starvation and sandstorms. The American dream is also displayed when Elsa journeys to California to seek a better life. On the other hand, they discover capitalist gluttony, poverty, and discrimination that prevent the refugees from surviving. Jack describes communism as the new American way to ensure equal opportunity for everyone, which is unsurprising (William, n.p).

Strength and Resilience

A variety of struggles, from physical to psychological, are shown throughout the book. The Great Plains migrants experience hardship, sadness, death, and hunger, yet they do so with incredible endurance. Regardless of Elsa’s discrimination in the California PTA meetings, she finds the willpower to provide for her family and the Deweys. The generosity and connections the Martinellis experience in California are another outstanding examples of resiliency. As an illustration, consider Betty Anne, the hairdresser’s choice to give Elsa and her family a free haircut and a package of gently used clothing.

Love and family

The family is viewed as the genesis of solace or pain in this novel. When it comes to proving that Elsa is unattractive and unable to stand up for herself, Elsa’s parents stop at nothing to restrict and isolate her. Nonetheless, the situation is different when Elsa is taken in by Martinellis, Tony, and Rose, who surround her with affection that teaches her to be resilient, self-sufficient, and competent. After reconciling with Loreda and finding new love with Jack towards the end of her life, Elsa understands the value of love. The sense of appreciation inspires her confidence to speak up during the protesters’ march she experiences in her surroundings (William, n.p).

Discrimination and Inequality

The migrants from the great plains were labeled disparaging names like the Okies and considered invaders instead of being viewed as fellow Americans. Prejudice is also eminent when Jean loses her child at birth due to the massive inequality and discrimination. Later on, Jean contracts typhoid but can not access medication because of discrimination and inequity, which results in her death. Suffice it to say the migrants are only allowed to work as periodic farm laborers due to prejudice, which leaves them open to manipulation by affluent crop growers.


The historical time during Great Depression and the dust bowl was challenging social and economic time for the American people. It was marked by the people’s vulnerabilities and many struggles to stay alive and keep the families alive. Amidst these struggles, some people developed greedy behaviors to manipulate and oppress those affected by the crisis. However, the American dream is kept alive by the resilience and strong-willed nature of the people who stood up to champion their rights.

Works Cited

Kristin, Hannah. “The Four Winds.” (2021): 80-80.

Neenah, Ellis. “Survivors Of The Great Depression Tell Their Stories.” (2008)

William, Anderson. “Summary and Themes in the Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.” (2020)


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