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English Literature

Context

The Depression

On October 29 1929, millions of dollars were wiped out in an event that became known as the Wall Street Crash. It led to the Depression in America which crippled the country from 1930 - 1936. People lost their life savings when firms and banks went bust, and 12 - 15 million men and women - one third of America's population - were unemployed.

Click here to find out more about the Wall Street Crash.

There was then no dole to fall back on, so food was short and the unemployed in cities couldn't pay their rent. Some ended up in settlements called 'Hoovervilles' (after the US president of the time, Herbert C Hoover), in shanties made from old packing cases and corrugated iron.

A song about an unemployed man meeting an old friend he has fought alongside in the First World War and asking him for a dime (the price of a cup of coffee) summed up the national mood.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits,Gee we looked swell,Full of Yankee Doodle-de-dum.Half a millin boots went sloggin' through Hell,I was the kid with the drum.Say, don't you remember, they called me Al,It was Al all the time.Why don't you remember I'm your pal,Brother, can you spare a dime?

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