Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Dorothea Lange- "Waiting for the semi-monthly relief checks at Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California” 1936

This image stood out to me not only due to the general feeling and expressions of the individuals within the image but also due to the location and date. Upon viewing the image, at first I was struck by the man in the centre of the image, the main focus. The expression on his face sums up the devastation and stress many people, like this man, faced and how hard it was to live, keep a job and provide for yourself and family during this period of time.

The location and date of this image really stood out to me due to the historical context in which they are placed. California was and still is seen as the state of dreams, the "Golden State", where settlers traveled to start a new life and prosper there with their families. This image shows the very opposite of this idealistic notion of the west and California. The men in this image are waiting for their 'semi-monthly relief checks' whilst being in the state where their dreams were meant to come true. The year this image was taken is also important. It was during the time of the "Dirty Thirties" and at the end of the New Deal and the presidential election. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected, the New Deal was effectively out of steam. It did manage to decrease unemployment but many people, as shown by this image, were still unemployed and struggling to survive and provide for their family.

This then leads on to the wider themes of the American Dream that we have explored throughout this module. The most well-known ideal of the American Dream is that it portrays a man, or a woman but mainly men, changing his life around and achieving what he wants and needs in the great country that is, America. The American Dream is also seen to be subject to change to the individual, such as one person may want to settle and prosper with their family, linking back to the migration west, whilst others want to become wealthy or famous, linking to the Great Gatsby. However, this image somewhat destroys these ideals of the American Dream by showing how many tried to achieve the dream but were let down or fell short and that it was not always possible. The Great Depression was a time of suffering and poverty, yet the phrase "The American Dream" was created in the 1930s, probably as a way to re-awaken the ideas of how great America is and how people can achieve their dreams there.

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