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Jim Thompson's Now and On Earth tells the story of a family's struggles in San Diego, California. The story was based between 1930 and 1942, which was World War Two as well as the great depression. James Dillon is the main character, he struggles with money as well as his family. He lives with his mother, as well as his wild family who never seems to calm down. James has many struggles, he doesn't make enough money to properly fund his family. They are always strapped for cash, and James has an addiction to alcohol. The great depression left many families without jobs, money, and homes. This book is about James Dillon's struggles during the 1930's. Money was, for many people, the key to happiness as well as the cause of sorrow. For many Americans life revolved around money. Money separated people, the size of their wallet determined the level of happiness, as well as their social class, during that time the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Money was scarce, but James had a job, a low paying job that didn't give him much, but enough to get him and his family by.
Life during the depression was hard, and money was the key to happiness. James and his family needed money but were always strapped for cash. A good example as to how money was such an important thing is mentioned in the book, a worker went into a dinner and asked for a beer and a cheese sandwich, he handed the waitress a dollar and she gave him but a dime in return, he asked if there is some mistake and she said "Oh no. Sandwich, fifty. Beer, forty. No mistake." "Funny, What's those?" in a rather sarcastic tone. "Why their my breasts, you fool! What'd you think they were?" He responded "Didn't know. Everything else is so high in here I thought they might be the cheeks of your ass.". This attitude was a common one, people were commonly in a bad mood. This is because money was short and it causes problems. People don't want to pay 90 cents for a beer and a sandwich and when they only have a dollar.
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Money was scarce then, and it was a way of classifying people. Roberta, which is James wife, knows that James works hard and does his best to support the family. Roberta and James talk about money a lot throughout the novel. In one part of the book, Roberta and James talk about money hardships as well as how is classifies people. "Got and money" said Roberta. "All of seven cents." "I've got a dollar but let's not spend it unless we have to. We need so many things Jimmie." Here is a classic example of money hardships. James says that he only has seven cents, and Roberta only has a dollar. Keep in mind that these two people are the mother and father of the family, and they only have a dollar and seven cents put together. Later on in that conversation, Roberta classifies Moon, who is Jimmie's boss, as a rich person. She thinks that just because Moon is in charge of what Jimmie does at work that he has a lot of money to spend. "Look, whose idea was this, anyway? How do you expect to go down here and spend an evening without money?" said James. "Moon's got plenty of money. You just let him pay for things." said Roberta. "I guess I'll have to.". This is a prime example of when money puts people in their classification. Money was a way to classify people back then. Here Roberta is basically classifying Moon as a rich person. This happened a lot during that time. People worked hard and didn't get paid much at all, this alienated people. This prevented socialization outside of the family, people would work hours upon hours and be practically dead when they got home.
Money was the key to happiness and the cause of all life's problems. The great depression put a lot of people out of work. It caused a tremendous decline in the status of life. Alcohol became a major part of life. It was a way to escape the everyday battle for money. When moon took the family out, he made a payment to the cashier before the entered. James says that he was worried about where Frankie and Moon were, but this night was his, no cost out of his pocket, just a free night, nothing to worry about. Of course this night had plenty of drinking involved, scotch and sodas, as well as sunrise specials too, this was of course a part of James's drinking problem.
Times back then were often hard, and many people felt it, in fact more people felt the sting of poverty than the golden taste of wealth. This is described in the book, with examples from the Dillon family as well as other families. This proves that the poverty extends well beyond the Dillon family. "Sunday night we got a long-distance call from Marge-a collect one because Walter was slowly being hounded out of his job by bill collectors and he'd told her she simply couldn't run up anymore bills." This proves that jobs as well as money were a sacred thing back in those days. With millions of people out of work and jobs that don't pay anything money was the most important commodity back then. This theme was apparent throughout the book. "When I think of how I used to take you kids to a five-cent movie and sit in it all day to save fuel. And of how we skimped on food. Do you remember the games we used to play? I'd break up the bread on your plates at breakfast, and we'd be big sharks ourselves. And then at noon the bread and gravy would be cars and our months would turn into tunnels. I laughed. "Yeah. And where were living when you chased down the alley that day and got those two road workers for boarders? I remember Marge and I had a pet chicken named Dickie, and how we bawled when you took it to the store and swapped if for fifty cents worth of groceries to give these guys their first meal with.". This is another example as to how life was cruel. The food they used to eat would barely fill a chicken, bread, gravy for breakfast and lunch? This is just a sign of how people ate during that time. Even at times people were reduced to selling the family pet just for a few cents. This is hard to believe but its how many people lived. This again is mentioned later on in the book. "Frankie bought some lunch meat and canned beans. We couldn't even afford matinee tickets." This is a true theme throughout the book, as well as a reality for the real world. This was how things were, cheap beans, rice, gravy and bread.
The struggles for money and how much stress it caused people are evident throughout the novel. The lack of money and food caused a lot of stress for people. Men felt that they needed to be the care taker of the house, the person who supports his family. "I would if I could get a hundred dollars," said mom. And Roberta said, "Jimmie's always been like that, Mom. Why one week when he got five hundred dollars for two little old stories, he was going around pulling his hair and swearing and saying that he was ruined, that he'd forgotten how to write. You'd have thought the world was coming to an end......Now you know you did, Jimmie! You know you've always been like that.". James as well as many other people were probably like that. Jimmie wasn't upset because he had forgotten how to write, he was worried. Worried that his stories weren't going to be as good as they once were, meaning that he won't get nearly as much money for him and his family. This is an example of how money controls people's lives. It is so important that it can cause a grown man to walk around screaming foul words and believing that he or she had forgotten how to write.
At that time there was a gap between the rich and the poor. That gap got wider and wider throughout the book. When Jimmie asked Moon for one hundred dollars moon was still hesitant. Moon was the man to ask he made seventy-five dollars a week. "It looks that way don't it, Dilly? I'm running better than seventy-five dollars a week. But I'm paying for that car, and we bought us a houseful of furniture here a while back, and I've been sending money to my brother's folks. It looks that way, but when you try to lay your hands on even a hundred dollars-all in one chunk-it's not easy." Here this is a good example of the gap between poor and rich. Seventy-five dollars a week at that time was a lot of money.
Now and On Earth is a wonderful novel that really lets people get a glimpse of the way things were back during the depression. He uses good examples as to how things were. He shows how those times alienated people from other people, aside from their family or who ever they lived with. He shows how money was the key to happiness as well as the root of sadness. He shows the difference of social classes and how people were classified or judged by the amount of money they had in their wallet. Thompson went through experiences like this so he really knows what it's like to experience the Great Depression. It was a really hard time and many people had next to nothing to live on. Many people had more mouths to feed than they could afford. People sometimes worked 6 days a week in order to make money to feed their family. Stress and alcohol were a big problem back then. People felt the pressure of making money, and this caused tremendous stress. A lot of times people turned to alcohol as a cure to their problem. Now and On Earth is an excellent book that truly expresses the hardships that many people faced during the Great Depression.