The setting of The Grapes of Wrath, the novel penned by John Steinbeck in 1939 which won a Pulitzer Prize, and became an Oscar Winning film in 1940, was the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. This novel dealt with the struggles of a particular family called the Joads. They were forced to deal with a calamitous drought, changes in the farming industry, economic difficulties including foreclosures, and near hopelessness. In the film, Henry Fonda played Tom Joad.
What they strove for were steady employment, land, human dignity, and a future. The Joads had to pick up their stakes in Oklahoma and then they headed further west with California as their goal.
The TV series called Mad Men is set in the 1960’s, a generation later. But it still qualifies as a period piece. In this TV drama series, the people worked in the advertising industry. Mad Men was actually a short form of reference for people who worked in advertising on Madison Avenue in New York. The American society and culture of the 1960 was different than that of the Great Depression.
Most people were far better off than the general population was during the Depression, but this era was not without its issues – like the harmful activities of smoking and drinking, and the larger social issues of racism, homophobia, the lessening of personal values, sexism, and of course unrest in the country as a whole which lead to assassinations, and then came the war in Vietnam in the latter part of the 60’s.
The new series on the WGN America Network, Manhattan, begins in 1943, which while not a perfect fit, the show still lands squarely between the Great Depression era and the 1960’s Like both The Grapes of Wrath at the time it was published, and Mad Men, Manhattan is a period piece. Set in a small area of New Mexico, Manhattan is about the people who worked on the Manhattan Project, which was the research and development that would produce the first atomic bombs.
That’s the overview. If we ratchet up the zoom, we find that Manhattan is not going to be exclusively about the building of the bombs, but rather about the impact, and upheaval of life, on the people who were working on this super-secret project while living in the middle of nowhere.