The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

by

Timothy Egan

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The Worst Hard Time: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Osteen dugout was unbearably hot. Ike’s mother thought about moving the girls to town and surviving by doing odd jobs. All of Baca County seemed to be in a state of decay. In the 1920s, it had been so heavily plowed that more than 1.1. million acres would probably never grow another crop. Most Baca residents would have starved without government intervention.
The town that had once been regarded as ideal for the cultivation of wheat was now ruined by the pursuit of the crop. They could not grow any more wheat, nor could they grow anything else. Ironically, the cultivation of grain had nearly caused them to starve.
Themes
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
In the summer of 1935, Roosevelt initiated the Second Hundred Days. He instituted the Social Security Act, and started the Works Progress Administration backed by the National Labor Relations Act. The latter “enshrined union rights in the workplace.” The farm economy was improving, thanks to his measures. Still, the Supreme Court declared that Roosevelt’s control of the farm economy was unconstitutional. The government could not be the market, it seemed. Roosevelt was outraged, but his Resettlement Administration remained intact.
Roosevelt perceived that certain elements of the government were hostile to the swift changes he was making to the system, though his measures were popular among voters. He was “outraged” because he felt that, without the government controlling prices, the agricultural market would spin out of control again, as it had due to President Hoover’s “hands-off” approach.
Themes
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Ike Osteen remained in school, but Oscar saw no use for education. School had always been easy for Ike. One day, he was able to make a small speech as class salutatorian—the second in his class. Ike spoke about how the future would be better than the past. He said that, despite the black blizzards, Baca County was a great land. His mother was crying as he spoke. Ike finished by thanking the teachers who remained, though they were only “paid in grocery scrip.” Ike did what no Osteen had done before: he graduated from high school.
Ike fulfilled his mother’s hope that he would get an education, and perhaps even exceeded her hopes by graduating at the top of his class. His speech about the future being “better than the past” could have also described his view of his family, which had overcome the death of his father years before, as well as its trend of rejecting education in favor of available work.
Themes
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Later that year, Ike’s mother left the dugout with the two girls and moved to town. She said that the boys could split the homestead if they wanted, or sell it to the Resettlement people. Ike gave the homestead to his brother. Ike decided to leave “with just the clothes on his back and his bag of food and water.” He just kept walking.
Ike’s abandonment of the dugout was both an attempt to assert his individualism and to put the past behind him by literally walking away from it. Ike’s wish, like so many others who left the Dust Bowl both temporarily and permanently, was to define his life beyond tragedy.
Themes
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
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