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It Was a Fool’s Paradise

A snake is wrapped around an apple tree labeled "tree of unlimited credit" the are many apple cores littering the ground and a couple in plain clothes are walking away from the tree holding their stomachs and looking sick
A snake is wrapped around an apple tree labeled “tree of unlimited credit” the are many apple cores littering the ground and a couple in plain clothes are walking away from the tree holding their stomachs and looking sick

In John Francis Knott’s 1933 cartoon “It Was a Fool’s Paradise,” we see a man and woman walking away from an apple tree labeled “tree of unlimited credit” (Knott). The snake wrapped around this tree makes the biblical allusion to Adam and Eve quite obvious. The couple is holding their stomachs with sick expressions on their faces. The obscene amount of apple cores found on ground tell the reader that this expression is likely caused by overindulgence. In the biblical tale of Adam and Eve the latter eats a piece of forbidden fruit and damns the rest of humanity to be compelled to sin. However when read with the accompanying article “We Just Thought We Had” it becomes obvious that Knott’s cartoon is not commentary on original sin, but rather on the frivolous spending of unsound credit in the United States a few years prior, and how it ultimately caused the Great Depression.

The humor of this cartoon is found in its incongruity with the original story. In the Bible Eve only took a single bite of an apple whereas this couple has eaten far too many to count. The innumerable apple cores littering the ground represent the greed and gluttony of 1920’s America, and Knott even goes so far as to imply that this is worse than original sin. This discrepancy also points blame at the American public and their careless spending,  as well as the tempting “unsound credit” mentioned in the accompanying article (“We Just Thought We Had”). Knott parallels the immense spending of credit to this couples binging. The couple in the cartoon are clearly not dressed in the fig leaves like the biblical Adam and Eve, but rather in the plain clothes of  1930’s middle class Americans. Not only does this set them apart from Adam and Eve, but it sets them apart from the upper class, who are not affected by the economic crash as greatly as the lower and middle class (“Everyday Life 1929-1941″).

In the accompanying article, “We Only Thought We Had,” the Dallas Morning News comments on the use of unstable credit in 1929. They claim that the use of credit in the 1920’s was taking business away from the early 1930’s . The article is highly critical of this credit and employs multiple rhetorical questions throughout the article in order to force the reader to think about what was really going on. By asking the reader “where is all the money we used to have?” or “where is all the business we used to do?” the author is implying that there is no money and business anymore (“We Just Thought We Had). These rhetorical questions lead the reader into thinking a in a similar way to the author.

The forbidden fruit depicted in Knott’s cartoon is the seemingly unlimited credit of the previous decade. During the 1920’s the American economy was booming, and playing the stock market was all the rage. This ‘game’ of stocks became so popular that investors began to buy them “with little or no money down”, and soon the American use of credit would cause the market to collapse (Woodard). The stock market had seemingly become an embodiment of the American dream, and it soon became flooded with “small scale investors” looking to go from rags to riches overnight (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). The brokers who were handing out credit were playing a risky game, but as long as the market was growing they couldn’t lose (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). However, as they always do, the stocks inevitably went down and “the great sell-off of 1929” brought the market, the brokers, the investors, and the entire American economy down with it (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”).

Knott’s cartoon compares the credit crisis of the early 1930’s to the story of Adam and Eve. The allure of the credit had been so strong to the American public, as well as the brokers, that in Knott’s cartoon unlimited credit is analogized with the proverbial apple that Eve ate. The most important aspect of this comparison is that of original sin. As the Dallas Morning News writes the economy of 1929 was conducting business that “legitimately belonged to 1933-35” just as Eve’s sin caused the downfall of human kind in the future, the gluttony of 1929 affected the future indefinitely (“We Just Thought We Had”).

Works Cited

“Everyday Life 1929-1941.” Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. Ed. Richard C. Hanes and Sharon M. Hanes. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002. 305-329. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John Francis. “It Was a Fool’s Paradis.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.

“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash.” Social History of the United States. Ed. Daniel J. Walkowitz and Daniel E. Bender. Vol. 3: The 1920s. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. 372-375. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

“We Just Thought We Had.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.

Woodard, David E. “Stock Market Crashes.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed.      Thomas Woodard. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 722-724. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.