The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan is a third-generation Westerner and one of nine children. He was raised in Spokane, Washington. After seven years and a series of odd jobs, he graduated from the University of Washington. In the 1980s he wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and then quit his reporting job to write his first novel. In 1997, he moved to Italy with his family and fell in love with its history and wine culture. The experience laid the foundation for his first novel, published in 2004, The Winemaker’s Daughter. For the past eighteen years, he has worked as a reporter for The New York Times. He began his career with the newspaper as its Pacific Northwest correspondent, and then he became a national enterprise reporter—a journalist who develops original stories for a publication. Currently, he writes a weekly column for The New York Times entitled “The Opinionator,” in which he writes about politics and current events from a progressive perspective. The column appears every Friday. In 2001, he and several other Times reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for the 15-part series, “How Race Is Lived in America,” published in 2000. Egan has covered stories specific to the American West, stories on the deterioration of rural America, and a report for which he retraced the path that Lewis and Clark followed during their western expedition. Egan has received honorary doctorates from Willamette University, Whitman College, Lewis and Clark College, and Western Washington University. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife, the journalist Joni Balter. They have two children.
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Historical Context of The Worst Hard Time

On October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, initiating the Great Depression. People on the southern Great Plains did not feel the impact as quickly as those in the cities, but by the 1930s, they were more harshly impacted by economic deprivation due to the droughts and subsequent dust storms that made it impossible to farm. By 1933, when inhabitants in the Southern Plains were struggling against violent dust storms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was beginning his first presidential term. During his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt issued a wave of legislation, much of which was designed to control the prices of farm products, ending former President Herbert Hoover’s free market approach to the agricultural industry. President Roosevelt’s adjustments to the farm industry were a part of the First New Deal, which also established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA made the Tennessee River more navigable and helped with flood control. The hydroelectric Wilson Dam was also built as a part of the act. Other aspects of the First New Deal included the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which protected bank accounts up to a certain amount in the event of a bank failure, and the legalization of beer purchases—the first step toward ending Prohibition.

Other Books Related to The Worst Hard Time

Egan has published a series of books about American history, with a particular focus on the American West and environmental issues. In 2009, he published The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, a book about the nation’s worst wildfire and the subsequent creation of the U.S. Forest Service. Like The Worst Hard Time, The Big Burn was used as source material for a Ken Burns documentary. Though John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is the best-known work on the Dust Bowl, numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, both adult and children’s books, have been written about the environmental disaster. One of the first books about the Dust Bowl, Lawrence Svobida’s Farming the Dust Bowl: A First-hand Account from Kansas, is about the author’s personal experience of the event. It was published in 1940. In 1979, the historian and professor Donald Worster published Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Ten years later, James N. Gregory, another historian, published American Exodus: The Dust Bowl and Okie Culture in California. Egan’s account of the event has won both the Ambassador Book Award for American Studies and the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Key Facts about The Worst Hard Time
  • Full Title: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
  • When Written: The 2000s
  • Where Written: Seattle, Washington; various portions of states in the Southern Plains, including western Kansas, southwestern Nebraska, southeastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle.
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Non-fiction Literature
  • Genre: Non-fiction; Historical Narrative
  • Setting: The Southern Great Plains
  • Climax: Black Sunday—the day of the worst storm of the Dust Bowl
  • Antagonist: Dust Storms and The Great Depression
  • Point of View: Third-Person Omniscient

Extra Credit for The Worst Hard Time

Bonnie and Clyde. In the midst of the Dust Bowl, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, a young couple from Texas, both from poor families, spent the early 1930s robbing banks in the Southern Plains. Though they were Public Enemy No. 1, they had admirers in No Man’s Land due to robbing the banks that settlers felt had already stolen from so many ordinary citizens. The couple was killed on May 23, 1934 outside of a gang member’s home in Louisiana. The Texas ranger who had hunted and captured them took pictures of himself with their bullet-riddled bodies. The couple’s story has been retold in songs and films, most notably in the Oscar-winning 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Movietone. Settlers on the High Plains who went to the movies got news about the bread-lines through Fox Movietone’s newsreels, and moviegoers in the cities heard about the Dust Bowl via Movietone. Fox Movietone’s newsreels ran from October 1927 to October 1963. They informed the American public on both national and international events, particularly the Second World War, before people settled in to watch a feature film.