Postwar In the 1950’s the number of people living in the suburbs came to actually equal the number of people living in cities. This wave of people was due mainly to the availability of affordable housing; which allowed middle-class Americans to move to an area previously inhabited only by the wealthy. The houses and neighborhoods built in mass numbers on assembly lines came to look identical to each other. As a result of this, a model American life was created. People all around the country began to follow this model, and before they knew it a race to conform had begun.
People no longer strove to be different, neither by ethnicity nor religion; they strove to be the same. David Farber, the author of The Age Of Great Dreams, says that while people were intentionally conforming into model Americans, they were forming their own identities as well. Women began to take on new roles as housewives and mothers. They had to adjust to staying home alone all day, and began to take pride in the appearance of their homes and families. The men, on the contrary, had to adjust to lives of commuting.
They were away from their homes all day and had to drive on highways or take trains just to go to work. In the great move to the suburbs on the quest to conform to what was known as the good life, people had to undergo many changes; this enabled them to develop new identities and ways of life. During the 1950’s the gap between white-Americans and African-Americans grew vaster than it had ever been before. The increase in the gap is due mainly to the creation of large suburb towns such as Levittown. By 1960 Levittown had 82,000 whites and no blacks.
African Americans were told that they should not bother to apply for housing; the houses were sold strictly to whites. This living situation caused a huge gap to grow between the two races. Prior to the 1950’s people of all different cultural backgrounds lived side-by-side in cities; the drastic change damaged race relations forever. The gap between men and women also grew in the postwar era. The men who returned from war were forever changed by the experiences they had there.
This, as David Farber explained, gave them something to differentiate themselves from their wives. The women, who had held jobs while the men were away, were told to return to the home. This gave the women something to resent the men for. The 1950’s were a difficult time for men and women due to the large gap that had grown between them as a result of the war. The baby boom of the postwar era is a real marvel to society for the simple reason that it has never happened before.
Farber states that he is not sure exactly why the baby boom occurred; however, he implies that there were many factors leading to the occurrence of the phenomenon. During the 1950’s seventy percent of women were married by the age of 24, and families were having an average of 3.8 children each. There are no records of a baby boom after World War I, nor were there any records of a baby boom after any major European wars. Therefore, the postwar baby boom was due to factors that had nothing to do with the war directly. It was perhaps that America was in a state of extreme prosperity, people had money, houses, back yards and appliances.
They then felt it was a good time to settle down and have a large family. When Farber says that people are forming these large families as sort of a “haven” from a crazy world, he may be correct. The country was so prosperous at the time that people were afraid it wasn’t going to last. They, therefore, rushed to achieve their “American dream” while it was still within their reach. After the war America became without a doubt the most supreme power the world had ever known at the time.
We were in a state of extreme prosperity where our economy was soaring. Most families had the money to buy houses, television sets, and sometimes even more than one car. Even the poorest twenty percent of our country had more money than most foreign countries. We were a country to be both feared and envied. Countries around the world at the same time were experiencing extreme hardship. There was starvation in Japan, communism and poverty in Germany, and a famine that killed almost 50 million in China.
Many poor countries came to believe that America’s extreme wealth was the cause of their poverty, however, still more believed that America should be a model for their countries. They felt that America’s prosperity and materialism was something to strive for; a goal for their future. America was, therefore, viewed in a confusing light, both resented and aspired by poorer countries. Daniel Bell, a social critic, had a unique insight on how consumer culture was affecting American society when he wrote, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. He said that America had become divided into two worlds or cultures.
The first was the traditional 19th century work ethic; where values included, “self-discipline, delayed gratification, and restraint.” This culture was a culture focused on production, where people took pride in their hard work, and eventually received gratification from the final product. The second division of American society was in complete contradiction to the first. This was a culture based on consumption; where the number one value was instant gratification. The consumer culture blinded by prosperity began to find pleasure only by purchasing material items, not by sacrificing hard work to receive a positive outcome. The contradiction of these to American cultures is frightening to Daniel Bell, for he believes that the two will not exist together for very long.
He believes the consumer culture will slowly dissolve into every area of American life. People will no longer need to work hard at things to find pleasure; they will not even need to work hard in school. Bell states that the new culture that developed by 1960 that focused not on discipline, but on instant gratification, would be a huge detriment to American society. America by 1960 was in the middle of many social and economical changes. Farber described these “truths” as issues that were battling against each other.
For example, we have talked a lot about consumer culture and its affects on society. Farber is saying that by the time 1960 rolled around consumer culture was in a full-scale battle with America’s traditional values. The materialistic society that was booming by 1960 was slowly dissolving the important values of hard work and discipline. People no longer labored with skill to produce things, or felt gratification in their work. They were told by big businesses and advertisements that they were only to feel gratification in the material things that they purchase.
Another battle of “truths” that was underway by 1960 was a between the rich and the poor. American’s in the fifties developed a sense of national patriotism, a celebration in honor of the countries great abundance. What they failed to recognize was though the suburbs were flourishing, the cities were declining in wealth. What suburbanites also failed to recognize was that most of the people living in the run-down cities were African Americans. Therefore, the battle between ignoring the state of America’s inner cities, and recognizing the inequality of the poor African American families, raged into 1960 as well.
It is possible that in the spirit of Farber’s statement about truths being on a collision course, that the reason for the explosive politics and movements of the 1960’s were due to domestic battles that developed long before the sixties ever began. David Farber stated that the country by the close of the nineteen-fifties felt it has “lost it’s way in the blaze of it’s own prosperity.” The reason this occurred is that the country was changing so drastically, and the battles of so many “truths” were raging, that it was difficult to decipher where the country was really going. Today, in the year 2000, the world is in many ways the same as it was, however, there are many aspects of life that differentiate today from yesterday. We differ now from the 1950’s because our society is not undergoing any drastic changes. The social life of America has stayed fairly constant for many years now.
There has been nothing like a big war, or a depression that would have thrown us from our track for years. However, though Americans today are not lost in their purpose of life, we do not have many common goals as a country. Right now, as we approach an election year, it is very clear that people hold very different goals for our country. We have two major presidential candidates, Al Gore, and George W. Bush; who both hold very different views on the purpose and/or goals of our nation.
Al Gore, the democratic candidate takes a much more liberal approach to the Constitution than his running mate, Bush. He believes we should fight to preserve our environment, and find supplemental sources for power. He promises to work for middle-class America, to put social security in a “lock box.” He wants to drastically improve Medicare so that all seniors can receive prescription drugs, and in addition he supports a woman’s right to choose. George W. Bush, the republican candidate has a different take on what will be the best future for America. He wants to fight to lower taxes for the richest 1% of America, and eliminate taxes for the poorest Americans.
He also supports a bill that will decrease costs for the poorest of seniors, and find supplements to Medicare. He does not care overly about the environment like his running mate; in fact he wants to drill for oil in Alaska. Contrary to Gore, Bush also opposes a woman’s right to choose. This is not a report on the elections; it is, however, meant to show that it is impossible for America to have one view on the purpose and goals of our country. Our country has not lost its way, but right now the country is fairly evenly divided between these two men. It is, ironically, this ability to have two opposing sides that allows America to be unique.
America today may be on a better track than it was in the nineteen-fifties, however, we have not yet, as we hopefully never will, agree on one common purpose for our nation. Bibliography Farber, David. The Age of Dreams History Essays.