Wall Street Journal
In the fall of 1933, Sherwood Anderson left his home in New York City and set out on a series of journeys that would take him across large sections of the American South and Midwest. He was engaged in a project shared by many of his fellow writers - including James Agee, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, and Louis Adamic - all of whom responded to the Great Depression by traveling the nation's back roads and hinterlands hoping to discover how economic disaster had affected the common people. Like many of his peers, Anderson had anticipated anger and radicalism among the poor and unemployed. Instead, he discovered a people stunned by the collapse of their most cherished beliefs. "Puzzled America," the title of the book he composed out of his journeys, said it all.
In particular, Anderson found the people he met to be imprisoned by what he called the "American theory of life" - a celebration of personal ambition that now seemed cruelly inappropriate. "We Americans have all been taught from childhood," Anderson wrote, "that it is a sort of moral obligation for each of us to rise, to get up in the world." In the crisis of the Depression, however, that belief appeared absurd. The United States now confronted what Anderson called "a crisis of belief."
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with