This essay will explore the experiences of working-class women in Canada during the 1930’s, particularly, how “the 1930’s shaped [young women’s] economic and social positions within their families and altered their life choices, yet also created the possibility of independence and adventure, and opened up access to the city’s commercial amusements.” This essay will draw upon examples from two literary works – The Tin Flute by Gabriel Roy and Breadwinning Daughters by Katrina Srigley – in order to compare the similarities and differences of the experiences of young working women during the Great Depression. I will conclude this essay by assessing the merits as well as detriments of telling the stories of struggle and sacrifice through fictional writing versus oral histories. Specifically, I will disclose why I believe Breadwinning Daughters allowed for a more accurate and thorough understanding of the individual experience of these young working-class women.
The 1930’s, often referred to as the “Great Depression” or the “interwar years”, was a period marked by high unemployment, extreme poverty, and harsh economic instability and social inequality. Though many young women did work prior to the Great Depression, the 1930’s saw a large influx of women workers as “jobs in the primary industry, in which were largely held by men, disappeared.” Unemployed, many families had to seek new means to remain financially stable. One means was through government relief. However, both literary worked indicated that going on relief was undesirable and was typically of last resort. As stated by Breadwinning Daughters: “Relying on government relief was seen as an indication of moral and individual failure.” Luckily, “respectable working daughters remained an acceptable and desirable alternative to welfare and poverty.” As a result, these young women would end up becoming the main-wage earner, further known as “the breadwinner”, contributing to or provide all of the income support for the family:
For young women, wage earning placed them in breadwinning positions that could be both rewarding and burdensome. Many felt fulfilled supporting their families and realized a degree of social and economic independence they had not experienced before. Others sacrificed schooling opportunities and personal freedom, entering the labour market with the obligations of breadwinners rather than supplementary wage earners.
The Tin Flute explored how nineteen-year-old Florentine Lacasse took on a job as a waitress at a local diner when her father’s business went bankrupt as a result of the Great Depression. Florentine Lacasse is a fine example of a young woman who found her job rewarding as well as burdensome. She had acknowledged how she was sustaining her family and enjoyed seeing her family, especially her mother, happy about her ability to earn a wage. She had also expressed how she enjoyed the fact that she was able to purchase little silk stockings and attend the cinemas...