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Happiness Is: 1936

Happiness Is: 1936

November 1936. "Pregnant migrant woman living in squatter camp. Kern County, California." Acetate negative by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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The implacable and immemorial earth

This woman, and SuzieQ’s remark that her “eyes have a farseeing look in them,” put me in mind of the pregnant woman Lena Grove in William Faulkner’s novel Light in August, and the following passage which has stayed with me since I first read it over 40 years ago:

“She begins to eat. She eats slowly, steadily, sucking the rich sardine oil from her fingers with slow and complete relish. Then she stops, not abruptly, yet with utter completeness, her jaw stilled in midchewing, a bitten cracker in her hand and her face lowered a little and her eyes blank, as if she were listening to something very far away or so near as to be inside her. Her face has drained of color, of its full, hearty blood, and she sits quite still, hearing and feeling the implacable and immemorial earth, but without fear or alarm. ‘It’s twins at least,’ she says to herself, without lip movement, without sound. Then the spasm passes. She eats again. The wagon has not stopped; time has not stopped.”


People from this time and place are such heroes to me and this young lady is no exception. The hardship may be etched on her clothes and face but a quiet dignity and strength is evident too. They had no safety net in those days, they had to rely on only themselves, maybe friends in similar circumstances and of course, the weather. Recalls to me my father who grew up on a farm in Romania. If you didn't make it, grow it or slaughter it, you didn't have it.

Resignation and Hope

Another stunning photograph from Lange: this beautiful young pregnant woman—who appears to be of Native American heritage—cradling a puppy and looking straight into the camera. There is hope as well as resignation in her honest gaze, but there's also a sense of defiance of the circumstances that have brought her here.

Mona Lisa of the camp

Her eyes have a farseeing look in them. The years haven't been easy, but I also see serenity and patience. Various historians of the Great Depression have commented on the extraordinary patience of many folks during those years. I see better years ahead, and I hope she does, too. Maybe we're never too far from our past. (And I like her pup. She's a nurturer.)

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