Too Far Apart
John Francis Knott- April 29, 1936
The political cartoon Too Far Apart offers a comedic yet eye-opening perspective on the imbalanced distribution of healthcare during the Great Depression. The Great Depression devastated the middle class, further excluded the lower class, and ruined the lives of several members of the upper class. Many Americans lost their jobs, and droughts across the country caused many farmers to lose their major source of income. This drastic spike in the poverty rate led to a significant decrease in the quality of healthcare received by the public. Furthermore, many impoverished citizens were unable to consistently eat and this made them more susceptible to the various illnesses that were prevalent during the 1930s. Many children suffered from rickets (a disorder that stems from a lack of Vitamin D, phosphate, or calcium) and since there were many areas that didn’t have running water, a large number of people became ill from the constant spread of germs. Physicians often found themselves unable to handle the sudden influx of unemployed and underprivileged patients, and this eventually created a gap in the quality of healthcare Americans received.
The article that complements this cartoon, titled ”The Medical Problem”, aims to provide insight on the medical issue from the perspective of the many physicians that were working during the Great Depression. The article claims that much like the majority of citizens, many doctors were negatively affected during the Great Depression. Countless physicians were being overworked and did not receive any compensation for their efforts. Additionally, many unemployed Americans that were unable to afford medical care were under the assumption that doctors failed to understand their troubles and doctors eventually began to feel the same way about the American populace. The article also pessimistically analyzes several proposed solutions to the medical problem that was prevalent during the Great Depression. The author repeatedly asserts that doctors and American citizens were “unable to agree” on a way to ensure that Americans received quality healthcare and that doctors were equitably salaried. However, agreement on a solution was not a simple task. The author highlights the complexity of the medical crisis by saying that it was a “many-sided problem” and that “even the soundest medical thinking has difficult cross-currents”.
Too Far Apart, a political cartoon drawn by John F. Knott, accurately illustrates the rift that was created between upper class healthcare and middle class healthcare. According to “Poverty in America: An Encyclopedia”, “public-relief programs enjoyed widespread support” during the Great Depression. For example, many middle-income Americans (income of $150 to $424) heavily relied on the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to supply them with medical care. The WPA did what they could, but they often lacked the proper facilities to treat their “3.5 million patients”. However, families that were considered to be financially comfortable (income of $425 and up) were, on average, able to pay for medical care 45.9 percent of the time. Middle-income families were only able to pay for medical care 18.8 percent of the time. This meant that many of these families (31.4 percent) were forced to rely on the free programs that were being offered through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Knott’s cartoon exemplifies this fact by showing an ill and hopeless man lying in a bed with the words “medium income sickness” inscribed on the blanket. The man is looking up towards a rather large building with the words “first class medical care” etched on its side. The fact that the man in the medium income bed is unlikely to ever be able to reach the first class medical building that is not only physically separated from him but also metaphorically separated implies that there was indeed an issue that needed to be resolved and that many unlucky, downtrodden, and sick Americans were suffering due to the lack of a solution.
The humor in this cartoon is particularly subtle. Neither the character nor the environments in this cartoon are drawn in an exaggerated form. Knott undoubtedly choose this realistic style to illustrate the seriousness of the medical problem that affected millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Knott’s goal for this cartoon was not to make people laugh. He instead aimed to inspire thought amongst his viewers. However, this cartoon does contain some humor. Many viewers of this cartoon could probably relate to the man in the bed since millions of Americans were either unemployed or unable to pay for topnotch medical care. Knott takes advantage of the human capacity to empathize with another individual or situation in an effort to further emphasize to his message through humor.
John Knott’s cartoon Too Far Apart accurately captures the despondent attitude many Americans had towards the medical industry during the Great Depression. Many families could not afford decent medical care and they were forced to rely on public-relief programs whenever they became ill. Various solutions were drawn up but because of the disparity between the ideals of doctors and patients, there was never any agreement. These numerous disagreements created a gap between the health care received by the upper class and middle class. As this gap became increasingly apparent, journalists and artists like John Knott yearned to expose this problem and one impactful result of this desire was the political cartoon Too Far Apart.
“Great Depression.” Poverty in America: An Encyclopedia. Russell M. Lawson and Benjamin A. Lawson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 61-65. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
“The Human Impact of the Great Depression.” The Human Impact of the Great Depression. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. <http://bigmateo0.tripod.com/id2.html>.
“Health Conservation and WPA – Social Welfare History Project.” Social Welfare History Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/health-conservation-wpa/>.
Perrot, George St. J. “Medical Care during the Depression: A Preliminary Report upon a Survey of Wage-Earning Families in Seven Large Cities.” NCBI. N.p., Dec. 2005. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC2690273%2F>.