- Purging the Rottenness from the System: The Blessed and the Damned in the Great Depression
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 72, Number 2, Summer 2016
- pp. 121-146
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- Additional Information
Many people in and out of political power responded to the onset of the Great Depression with a mixture of bafflement and bewilderment. Others, however, experienced no such doubts. For them, the Depression reinforced their understanding of how the world worked and confirmed their most sacred beliefs. This article examines their righteous—and occasionally self-righteous—emotional response to the Great Depression. It locates that response in three separate archives: classical economics, Christian evangelicalism, and one famous Depression short story, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited.” Each of these conveyed a sense that the Depression was a punishment for past mis-deeds, whether economic, spiritual, or moral, and, moreover, was a punishment that had to be endured, even embraced, for the good life to resume. This punitive view of economic contractions would have—and continues to have—disastrous consequences for ordinary Americans, tending to justify, as it does, the suffering of others.