Which is most effective and believable?
As I read “Somebody in Boots” by Nelson Algren and “Hungry Men” by Edward Anderson, I could not help but compare and contrast the two texts with Tom Kromer’s “Waiting for Nothing.” All three writers focus on the theme of the transient single man, a.k.a. hobos, during the 1930s Great Depression era. However, I found that the two texts I read after Kromer were vastly different than “Waiting for Nothing,” yet both seem to want to achieve the same affect as Kromer but don’t quite get it. I think it mostly has to do with Kromer actually experiencing the hobo lifestyle firsthand, whereas Anderson and Algren seem to be two writers who understand little of what it means to be in this position and seem to only want to write an interesting, fictionalized narrative.
The protagonist in “Somebody in Boots” is called Cass and little is known of him, except that he is a young white male who seems to be uneducated due to his manner of speech. In the beginning of the story, he comes upon a mission that is handing out free food, but he finds the food disgusting and only has a single bite. As I read this, I thought that Kromer or any true hobo who understands the real extent of hunger would not turn down food, however disgusting, because at least it would temporary fill one’s stomach and extend one’s survival. In general, Cass doesn’t seem to bring up any issue of hunger, even though he must be starving, yet he does repeatedly mention how weak his body is, no doubt due to his hunger.
Next in the story, the police chases Cass and he jumps into a “reefer pit.” He happens to land on a pregnant woman, which I thought this was a bit far-fetched and random. What enfolds is a gruesome description of the woman’s miscarriage and then Cass and his fellow companion in the reefer pit, Matches, leave the woman and carry on traveling in the story. It was interesting to see a pregnant homeless woman, as I would imagine there would be few during the Great Depression (or I might be wrong?) Up until now, we haven’t read much about women during the Great Depression (unless they were prostitutes) and I was wondering if there were female hobos as well. However, I found this scene to be really odd and quickly forgotten as the story progressed. I didn’t find Algren’s story to be nearly as believable as Kromer’s.
Anderson’s “Hungry Men” tries to mimic the Hemingway-esque style also employed by Kromer in “Waiting for Nothing” but is less effective. I also noticed that Anderson mentions “guts” like Kromer. One big difference I noticed between two pieces is that while Kromer’s is hopelessly depressing, Anderson’s story still has an optimistic, idealistic tone to it. At one point, the protagonist starts to day-dream of what he would do if he had $100, whereas I feel that one in his position would probably not have such lofty ambitions and would worry more about the immediate urgencies, such as food and shelter. This is the same problem with Algren. Also, at one point, the protagonist suddenly meets a man who decides to give him food and money in exchange for nothing, which I found unbelievable. Up until this point, I was under the impression (by Kromer especially) that one didn’t really get lucky breaks like this or find people that were sympathetic toward hobos since hobos were looked down upon by higher members of society and everyone else was struggling just as much to be able to help one another out. Overall, I found Kromer’s to be the truest account of hobo life.