Throughout this book, I was amazed at the similarities between Egan and Hersey’s writing styles. Both writers gained credibility through their reporting techniques, researching their events to gain full mastery of the subject (Egan even dedicated over 10 pages in The Worst Hard Times to “Notes and Sources”). By subjectively choosing interesting and relatable subjects, both authors excelled in storytelling, keeping the reader engaged through a dreary tale of misfortune. The authors purposefully selected characters to entice readers, with Egan following the romance and tragedy of a young couple and their baby (Hazel and Charles). Likewise, Hersey followed a mother and her children in his book (Mrs. Nakamura), outlining the absolute horror experienced by mothers and their children. By showing us the events through the eyes of sympathetic characters, the authors employed pathos to gain the attention and care of the reader. In class, we discussed how history and journalism can overlap, and in this instance, it is important to consider the “human interest” influence on both traditional and new journalism. This human interest is further propelled by the events themselves, as both the Dust Bowl and the atomic bomb were human-created catastrophes. Through these events, the authors employed both objectivity and subjectivity to create new journalism.
According to Karin Wahl-Jorgensen’s article, Subjectivity and Story-Telling in Journalism, subjectivity and objectivity work in tandem, complementing one another to tell a persuasive and interesting story. She adds that to effectively inform audiences, an author must report with enough objectivity to create credibility, and enough subjectivity to elicit an emotional response. The delicate balance was achieved by both Egan and Hersey.
Character selection and development were crucial in these stories. The character selection process involves a multitude of executive decisions, including, as we discussed in class, choosing characters that have left enough evidence to be reported about. Hazel’s book, Sunshine and Shadows, aided Egan’s decision to include Hazel and her family in his book, as there was extensive information to guide him. Likewise, Hersey chose primary subjects to interview, and as discussed in class, he chose most of them based on his connection with the Christian clergymen.
Availability is not the only factor that leads authors to focus on particular subjects, they also choose them for their influence on readers and the archetypes they represent. Characters like Uncle Dick and Dr. Fujii represent greed and a person’s fall from power (although Uncle Dick does right himself on page 288 of The Worst Hard Times). Similarities between Bam White and Truman Capote’s Mr. Clutter represent hard working southern boys that worked their way to success only to die ironically from the very thing they worked for (Bam’s being the land, Clutter’s, influence).
Through their extensive research, Hersey and Egan provided statistics and historically relevant data in their books, securing their legitimacy as authors. They were both able to maintain the flow of a story with complementary facts that aided in audience retention. Like I mentioned previously, mothers and their children were followed in both stories, as audiences are likely to be compassionate of the struggles families face during times of hardship. The children are prevalent in Hiroshima as orphans are found, badly burned. Hersey even says the bomb was nicknamed, “genshi bakudan—the root characters of which can be translated as “original child bomb” (Hersey). Egan, likewise, uses language from the people of the story, quoting McCarty, the journalist, whose overly optimistic articles were contradictory to the torment taking place.
Egan and Hersey used human interest to propel their stories, keeping them relatable even today. It is almost impossible to read The Worst Hard Times and not hear the centipedes in the walls or see the swirling dark clouds of dust. The characters are lifelike, and because these events affected real people, the books maintain their influence on readers, regardless of the generational difference. The books also employ relevancy as the books describe events that are still threatening today (Global Warming and the nuclear threat from North Korea). These two books should be categorized as works of journalism, rather than history books, as they employ major themes of journalism.
Finally, both books highlighted the human impact and influence on nature, and one another. Whether intended or not, the books exist as a warning to audiences. If you don’t learn from the past, you are sure to make the same mistakes in the future. Destroying things is one of the qualities of being human, and each book offers examples of what not-to-do (i.e., don’t raise your baby in a dust storm, don’t bomb people, etc.). Perhaps that is the most interesting part of each book. The human aspect that makes us feel less insane and more heard.