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Russell Baker and the Great Depression

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One of the most critical economic periods in the United States history was the Great Depression, which occurred in between the two world wars. A majority of the U.S. citizens did not know much about the Depression. The only information that they knew was what they read from textbooks. For instance, some of the material they read described the causes of the depression and how the whole country would be affected. Many citizens never really had to face the hardship like others were forced to face. People such as Russell Baker had to overcome many obstacles during this time.

“Growing Up” by Russell Baker is an autobiography on the problems he and his family endured during this era. The novel deals with a time that was unfamiliar and confusing to many young adults. While the United States is vastly changing from war to war, Russell tells his story of growing up in an extremely devastating environment. During the Depression, the major issues that Baker stressed mostly throughout the novel were about the financial difficulties that his family endured as a result of the death of his father, difficulties moving from rural life to urban, and lack of medical attention people received.

The financial burdens of the depression began to happen when Russell was just five years old and his father died. Elizabeth, Russell’s mother, then decided to leave the past behind and move to live with her brother, Allen. Elizabeth was quoted in the book as saying, “For the first time in her life she needed charity. This shows that upon the death of her husband, the whole family no longer has the money to live the lifestyle they had been previously living and they needed a little help to get started with creating a new life. During the Depression, it was not uncommon for family member to flock towards each other for support in their time of need. The more people living in one house, the more they could conserve financially.

“The decision to give up Audrey took a little longer” Baker said regarding their decision to move in his book. Uncle Tom and Aunt Goldie wanted to take her in because of their impossibility to bare children. Mother didn’t want to give Audrey away and “break up her family. Elizabeth also said “three can starve as cheap as two,” meaning that the three of her children could live in harsher times than if she only had two.So why not give one child a better life than a family could provide by sending her away. Finally Elizabeth came to her senses and realized that they “would happily give her a comfortable home and a good life, which was more than my mother could promise her.” Elizabeth loved her daughter but for good reason she knew that Audrey would be better off and so would she and the other children. The Great Depression brought hard times for many families. The size of your family meant a great deal to the survival of it through this drastic time.

After they moved to the city, Elizabeth had plans to live with her brother only until she got her feet on the ground. There was one problem though, “there were no jobs to be found.” At this point in time it was hard to find a job for anyone, let alone a school teacher like Elizabeth. She tried everything and no one was looking to hire. Finally, “she found temporary holiday work in a Newark five-and-dime store. Twelve hours a day, $18 a week. It was good pay; any pay was good pay by then.” People were starting to not care for what job they got as long as they had a little income flowing in. Elizabeth put her pride on hold and did what she had to do to support the family. Times were hard and every little sliver helped.

During this time of financial difficulties, it wasn’t unusual to send your children off to make a living and pull their weight for the house income. Russell Baker was only eight when his mother told him to make something of himself. He then began to work for a newspaper. His job entailed scouring the city, rain or shine, trying to sell five cent papers to people walking down the street. “For several hours I made myself highly visible,” yet Russell came home without selling a single paper. When his father died, Russell had to be the man around the house. He felt like he had a duty to help his mother and sister. Even though he hated the job, he kept it to please his mother. Although his mother nagged very often about Russell “making something” of himself, he finally came to realize what his profession soon would be. Russell wrote a “composition on his summer vacation” and “the teacher graded it an A.” This was the first moment that Russell Baker decided he wanted to become a writer.

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