1950’s American Culture This Boy’s Life Pictures These pictures are of the places spoken about in This Boy’s Life and provide a visual framework for the memoir. Pictures Pictures Pictures FASHION Prior to the 1950’s, teen clothing very reserved/ proper but to some extent that changed in the 50’s. Guys Hair longer w/ sideburns and slicked back with grease. Jeans Leather jackets (collar turned up to be “cool”) Girls Ponytails Pedal pushers, Scarves. Poodle Skirts popular because 1) Easier dancing, being spun around letting the skirt twirled. 2) skirt was loose and free, a sign of freedom. THE 1950s: “Conservatism, Complacency, and Contentment” OR “Anxiety, Alienation, and Social Unrest” ?? The American Dream – Post War morality and fear We tend to imagine the Fifties as a tranquil decade, but in fact Americans spent the years moving and searching. They moved physically, from the Northeast to the South and West—California's population grew by 49% during the Fifties, Florida's by 79%. They moved from rural areas to cities and from cities to suburbs. By 1960, a third of the country's population lived in the 'burbs. Many people were content, but many others felt ill at ease because of the speed at which the world was changing. Searching for new ways of coping, they embraced religion. The American Dream – Post War morality and fear 1950s suburbia was desperate not to reveal any moral or psychological family scars, especially after the trauma of the Depression and all the casualties of World War II. America wanted another age of innocence, and suburbia, with its quiet tree-lined streets, its two-car garages, its chain link fences, would repackage all of America’s twenty to thirty years of social trauma In the face of change, people craved rules and boundaries, with a significant increase in religious fervour and, through TV, the dissemination of gender roles and the need for conformity and order. These values were linked to the idea of an “All American” lifestyle and patriotism, and any deviation from this was associated with Communism. Morality Fairly Strict Society – monitored by society itself Rebellion was not acceptable Surge in Religion – felt good indicator of Anti-Communist Added “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance Gender Roles strongly held SOCIAL CONFORMITY American workers found themselves becoming standardized Called the “Organization Man,” the modern worker struggled with a loss of individualism Businesses did not want creative thinkers, rebels or anyone that would “rock the boat” Despite their success, some workers questioned whether pursuing the American dream exacted too high a price, as conformity replaced individuality The increasing role of media Social control vs. Globalisation POPULAR CULTURE A new era of mass media led by television emerged in the 1950s In 1948, only 9% of homes had T.V In 1950, 55% of homes had T.V. By 1960, 90% of American homes had T.V. THE ADVERTISING AGE The advertising industry capitalized on runaway consumerism by encouraging more spending Ads were everywhere Ad agencies increased their spending 50% during the 1950s Advertising is everywhere today in America THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION The 1950s was known as the “Golden Age of Television” Mass Audience TV celebrated traditional American values. Comedies were the main attraction as Milton Berle, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were very popular Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball starred in I Love Lucy Changes in TV On-The Scene Reporting Game Shows – offered large cash prizes Businesses spent $$$ on TV Advertising $170 million in 1950 $1 billion by 1955 $2 billion by 1960 TV Guide = HUGE magazine, TV Dinners created so did not have to miss favorite show Television – The Western Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier Sheriff Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke The Lone Ranger (and his faithful sidekick, Tonto): Who is that masked man?? Family Shows Glossy view of mostly middle-class suburban life. But... I Love Lucy Social Winners?... The Honeymooners AND… Losers? ELEVISION EXPERIMENTS WITH VARIOUS FORMATS Television innovations like onthe-scene-news reporting, interviews, westerns and sporting events offered the viewer a variety of shows Kids’ shows like The Howdy Doody Show and The Mickey Mouse Club were extremely popular TV ADS, TV GUIDES AND TV DINNERS EXPAND TV advertising soared from $170 million in 1950 to nearly $2 billion in 1960 TV Guide magazine quickly became the best selling magazine Frozen TV dinners were introduced in 1954 – these complete ready-toheat meals on disposable aluminum trays made it easy for people to eat without missing their favorite shows LEISURE IN THE 1950s Americans experienced shorter work weeks and more vacation time than ever before Leisure time activities became a multi-billion dollar industry Labor-saving devices added more spare time Labor-saving devices provided more leisure time for Americans POPULAR LEISURE ACTIVITES In 1953 alone Americans spent $30 billion on leisure Popular activities included fishing, bowling, hunting and golf Americans attended, or watched on T.V., football, baseball and basketball games Bowling remains one of the top leisure activities in the U.S. Family THE AMERICAN DREAM IN THE 50’s After WWII ended, Americans turned their attention to their families and jobs New businesses and technology created opportunities for many By the end of the 1950s, Americans were enjoying the highest standard of living in the world Ozzie and Harriet reflected the perfect American family THE SUBURBAN LIFESTYLE The American Dream complete with a white picket fence Most Americans worked in cities, but fewer and fewer of them lived there New highways and the affordability of cars and gasoline made commuting possible Of the 13 million homes built in the 1950s, 85% were built in suburbs For many, the suburbs were the American Dream The Nuclear Family In the 1950's the ‘normal’ American family consisted of a breadwinner father, homemaker mother, and several children, all living in homes in the suburbs on the outskirts of a larger city. It was a narrow view of a model family, yet it pervaded the media and was widely accepted as the ideal and most normal. REDEFINING THE FAMILY After WWII American society dictated that a return to traditional roles was the norm and should be something that all people strive for Men were expected to work, while women were expected to stay home and care for the children Conflict emerged as many women wanted to stay in the workforce Divorce rates surged DR. SPOCK ADVISES PARENTS Many parents raised their children according to the guidelines of pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock He thought children should be allowed to express themselves and parents should never physically punish their kids Dr. Spock’s book sold 10 million copies in the 1950s IMPACT OF BABY BOOM As a result of the baby boom 10 million students entered elementary schools in the 1950s California built a new school every 7 days in the late ’50s Toy sales reached an all-time high in 1958 when $1.25 billion in toys were sold Symbols of the Baby Boom in Suburbia 1950 1960 Hot Dog Production (millions of lbs) 750 1050 Potato Chip Production (millions of lbs) 320 532 Sales of lawn and porch furniture (millions of dollars) 53.6 145.2 Sales of power mowers (millions of dollars) 1.0 3.8 Sales of floor polishers (millions of dollars) 0.24 1.0 Sales of Encyclopaedia (millions of dollars) 72 300 Number of Children age 5-14 24.3 35.5 Number of baseball Little Leagues 776 5,700 Fads of the Baby Boomers Hula Hoops Frozen Foods Poodle Skirts and Saddle Shoes What celebrity deaths have most affected the Baby Boomers? Panty Raids John F. Kennedy Barbie and GI Joe Dolls Bikinis Marilyn Monroe Frisbees Martin Luther King Yo-yos John Lennon Ouija Boards Dune Buggies Gender Roles and expectations Gender Roles in the 1950s The emerging popularity of American television helped shape gender roles for both men and women through the 1950s. Expanding families and young children were reared in a TV generation, where gender roles were clearly defined by the societal ideal. Shows like the 1954 sitcom "Father Knows Best" established in the title the patriarchal sentiment of the decade, where men not only were the primary breadwinners but ultimately presided over the family unit itself. WOMEN’S ROLES IN THE 1950S During the 1950s, the role of homemaker and mother was glorified in popular magazines, movies and television Caring mothers, diligent spouses, obedient partners, and "good" wives. They were expected to carry out her man's every order and agree with him on everything. A good wife always knew her place. Well-Defined Gender Roles The ideal modern woman married, cooked and cared for her family, and kept herself busy by joining the local PTA and leading a troop of Campfire Girls. She entertained guests in her family’s suburban house and worked out on the trampoline to keep her size 12 figure. -- Life magazine, 1956 Marilyn Monroe The ideal 1950s man was the provider, protector, and the boss of the house. -- Life magazine, 1955 1956 William H. Whyte, Jr. The Organization Man A a middle-class, white suburban male is the ideal. WOMEN AT WORK Higher education for women was not valued within society, however, when American men went to war, women had no choice but to enter the workforce, in part because industry needed to continue, and in part because they needed to earn a wage to support their families. When men returned from the war many women did not want to return to their Homemaker status and wanted to remain working. However, those women who did work were finding job opportunities limited to fields such as nursing, teaching and office support Women earned far less than man for comparable jobs Men’s roles in the 1950s. While it is true that women experienced very prescriptive gender roles in the 1950’s, so too did men. Little girls were expected to play with dolls like Barbie, but we also had the boy toys like the GI Joe. This toy represented that men were strong, had courage, and was "America's Movable Fighting Man." This was new territory in imaginative play for boys - G.I. Joe was not a "doll" he was an "action figure.“ Men were considered “real men” if they were either the strong silent type or the tough, “you-talkin’-to-me?” street type with their ducks-ass hair style and pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up inside their short t-shirt sleeve. These “real men” played sports and avoided the arts; loved manual labour and hated desk jobs; were hard drinkers; drove stick shift; and dodged commitments, especially marriage, until the 11th hour, after a brief courtship of prom night, drive-ins, street dances, roller rinks, a summer at the beach, and making out in the balcony back row at a movie theatre. A “man in a uniform,” fresh from active duty, always had the upper hand on the street. Women in the 1950’s generally loved a guy in a uniform. Men’s roles in the 1950s. As the head of the family, the man is expected to be the bread winner, the one who works hard to earn a wage, so that he can financially support his family. In the 1950s, most husbands had attended college or vocational training. Their educational background afforded them the opportunity to find a job. Men had a great deal of pressure on them to ensure that they supported and protected their families, needing to demonstrate wisdom, strength, bravery and unemotional detachment almost on demand. Just as the women were bombarded with images in which they were supposed to live up to, the men were expected to be a blend of the classic American Cowboy, the American War Hero, the wise and steady Father (think Atticus Finch). Finally, men were expected to keep an orderly household, a wife or child that does not behave in socially acceptable ways reflects badly on him and his ability to “discipline” them. How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? The fact that a girl shared the name Tobias caused them both “scalding humiliation” p7 “I was subject to fits of feeling myself unworthy, somehow deeply at fault” Toby has an inferiority complex, linked to his perceived need to wield power and demonstrate masculinity p.9 Roy only partially fulfils gender expectations, “Roy didn’t work”p11, but he is a military veteran and a proficient hunter. Also, in his own way, does a socially acceptable job of teaching Toby to be ‘manly’ pp11-12. As a 10yr old boy, “I thought Roy was what a man should be” p12. “Power can only be enjoyed when it is recognised and feared” p21 Dwight’s insistence on getting drunk at the tavern and then driving dangerously home when his masculinity is threatened – after the rifle club competition (pp109 -113), while he is courting Rosemary (pp74-76, 83) The construction of the teenage identity Teen Culture Behavioral Rules of the 1950s: Obey Authority. Control Your Emotions. Don’t Make Waves Fit in with the Group. Don’t Even Think About Sex!!! Teen Culture EMPHASIS ON YOUTH IN 1950s. First time the term Teenager was used. Drive-in movies – Good for dates Sock Hops – informal High School dance Fast food restaurants TV in 90% of homes by 1959 How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? The title of the memoir: Wolff’s choice of pronoun This – it is decisive and assertive – not, for example, My Life as a Boy (apart from the obvious ambiguities…) or A Boy’s Life, or even My Life by Tobias Wolff. His choice of This is indicative of his struggle to define himself during this period of his life – this is the account of his years as Jack. What we are to discover is that throughout the memoir, Wolff is more than one boy – one who is not so much defined by his identity but by his search for identity. If there is one framing narrative of this work, it is captured by that pronoun: This – this boy is Jack, as remembered and described by Tobias Wolff, the man. Simultaneous narratives run throughout This Boy’s Life; sometimes parallel, sometimes converging – these are the accounts of Jack’s reality and his fantasies. How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Tobias, as his father before him had done, wanted to change his name to Jack, feeling that it was more masculine. (p7.) The insight is less about the name, and more about the pervading need to create a heritage to be proud of – but that the reality is, it is always a construction, both by individuals and by society. “Being close to so much robust identity made me feel the poverty of my own, the ludicrous aspect of my costume and props” p23. Building a sense of self is an on-going process, but the events of the first basketball game are the moment Toby realises that way will not be one of cruelty – p108 How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Moments of crisis often accompany the intersecting of reality and fantasy: When Sister James pays a visit to Jack, who is at the time engaging in a sniper fantasy (p. 22/23) When Jack scratches profanities onto the bathroom wall at school, after his friends Taylor and Silver cast doubt on his account of the Turkey shoot (p. 63) This arguably* (you decide!) precipitates Rosemary’s decision to send Jack to Chinook and to accept Dwight’s proposal. How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? When Jack successfully campaigns to go to Paris – but is unable to follow through (p.119) – interestingly, his key explanation is that he does not want to change his name. (Would this be a threat to the identity which he is constructing?) Following Jack’s acceptance into Hill, where he proves unable to sustain the fantasy How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Like Rosemary, Jack is optimistic that a new life will bring a change in fortune; “I was caught up in my mother’s freedom, her delight in her freedom, her dream of transformation.” (p.4) Jack takes this ideal one step further, by rewriting his personal narrative/s to pre-empt this change. (As he does when applying for Hill.) How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? “Introduce myself as a scholar-athlete, a boy of dignity and consequence, and without any reason to doubt me people would believe I was that boy, and thus allow me to be that boy”Important quote because after Jack and his mom leave Dwight for the first time he’s always talking about how he wants to be a new person, a cool person. This is another reason why Jack uses his imagination to escape reality. “It was truth known only to me, but I believed in it more than I believed in the facts arrayed against it. I believed that in some sense not factually verifiable I was a straight-A student. In the same way, I believed I was an Eagle Scout…. And on the boy who lived in their letters, the splendid phantom who carried all my hopes, I saw, at last, my own face” Industry and Employment Consumerism Industry and Employment White Collar jobs expanded greatly in the 1950s During the 1950s, businesses expanded rapidly More and more people held “white-collar” jobs clerical, management, or professional jobs The fields of sales, advertising, insurance and communications exploded Automobile Revolution The Automobile Culture After the rationing of WWII, inexpensive and plentiful fuel and easy credit led many to buy cars By 1960, over 60 million Americans owned autos The Automobile Culture Car registrations: 1945 25,000,000 1960 60,000,000 2-family cars doubles from 1951-1958 1958 Pink Cadillac 1959 Chevy Corvette The Automobile Culture America became a more homogeneous nation because of the automobile. First McDonald’s (1955) Drive-In Movies Howard Johnson’s How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Men are always the drivers. Aspects of masculinity are explored throughout the text in association with their car; The man in the Thunderbird- “Young and handsome and fresh” p38, “he was on his way to pick someone up”. The imperfect nature of the car as a symbol of masculinity – so easily damaged. Pp38 – 39 * Silver screaming “Yid” at the driver. p39 As a symbol of masculinity itself – when Skipper’s car is damaged in the sandstorm, his response is to cry, a feminine reaction in the 1950s Tobias sneaks out and steals Dwight’s car, toying with the idea of running away, branching out and being ‘grown up’ Interstate Highway System INTERSTATE HIGHWAY ACT 1956 In 1956 Ike authorized a nationwide highway network – 41,000 miles of road linking America The primary purpose of the highway system was to support military supply routes, and to ensure that there were clear escape routes for military vehicles in the event of attack. IMPACT OF THE HIGHWAY The Interstate Highway system resulted in: Trucking is the #1 means of moving cargo in the United States today More trucking Less railroad More suburbs, further away HIGHWAYS “HOMOGENIZE” AMERICA Another effect of the highway system was that the scenery of America began to look the same Restaurants, motels, highway billboards, gas stations, etc. all began to look similar The nation had become “homogenized” Anytown, USA “Our new roads, with their ancillaries, the motels, filling stations, and restaurants advertising eats, have made it possible for you to drive from Brooklyn to Los Angeles without a change of diet, scenery, or culture.” John Keats, The Insolent Chariots 1958 How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Metaphorically as well as literally, the Highways act as escape routes for Rosemary and Tobias. Tobias' mother is constantly moving locations to escape men, while Tobias' moves to his imagination of hunting to escape from reality. Geography also helps characterize Tobias, when he moves to colder weather his character also becomes colder resulting in delinquent behaviours. Geography plays an important role in This Boy's Life because when Tobias moves in with Dwight into a small town far from other towns. Toby begins to feel trapped. The mountains enclose him and he feels certain there is no way to escape this life. How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? When Rosemary and Tobias travel to a new location via car, it is often a tumultuous and unhappy destination, such as the journey to Chinook. However, when they travel by bus to Seattle, they find some semblance of calm and harmony. “oh Toby…he’s lost his brakes” p3. Metaphor for their situation – they are beginning a journey that they are powerless to stop. Flight is played out numerous times in This Boy’s Life. Since flight is symbolic of freedom, every time Jack escapes from a place or situation, it is symbolic of flight. The first instance of flight is when Jack and his mother escape to the West. Jack believes he is free of who he used to be, and of hard times. But despite changing his name, this does not turn out to be the case. How is this explored in This Boy’s Life? Jack encounters more problems in Chinook, where most of the memoir takes place. He takes flight to live with Chuck and his family, to visit his father, and to go to Hill. But each of these are examples of failed flights. Each time he fails, he discovers more about himself and the world around him. This eventually leads him to discover his passion for the army in which he gains successful “flight”. Wolff says that the army was “where I had been going all along, and where I might still redeem myself” (Wolff 286). Chinook, his father’s house, and Hill were not where he was supposed to end up, which is why his flights failed. Miscellaneous Metalanguage and Quotes Interesting dichotomies Domesticated/Controlled vs. Wild/Uncontrolled The relationship between Roy and Rosemary – Roy’s desperate need to control Rosemary belied his own disbelief in his ability to ‘domesticate’ his partner, not married to her, and ultimately unable to create a family of his own with her, including but not limited to her not falling pregnant. Chuck Nature/Natural Processes/Unnatural Processes Toby playing archery – the nun, and the construction of her religion vs. the ‘stand of trees’ where the boys would revert to a more savage, some would argue, natural state of interaction. P. 9 Juxtaposition of the Nun/church and Roy/family. Furthered through the pronouns, father, sister etc. Motifs Guns Guns exist as a symbol of power, who wields it, how it is exchanged and passed on, and also how it is lost or stolen. Jack has never felt confident that he is in control of his life. He could never protect his mother from her horrible relationships or the economic hardships they went through. However, with the rifle in his hands, he feels as if he had complete power. As he points it at objects and aims it at people, it represents the advantage he feels he now has over them. “the way it completed me when I held it” p19 Cars Are indicative of change, or shifting sentiments Norma and Bobby #1 – Toby realises he will never have a relationship with Norma when he realises that Norma and Bobby have had sex. There is a hint of innocence lost, but it also is a moment of building his own sense of identity – a decision that he will not be a cruel man p.108 Lying Tobias was obsessed with everyone perception of him. He wanted everyone to think that he was some cool kid, but often struggled with identifying what that actually looked like. Even in his letters to a pen pal when he was a little was a complete fabrication. He was obsessed with being anybody but himself. Motifs Nature, most particularly animals, are represented as innocent victims of human brutality, stupidity or caprice: • (p.21) Jack shoots a squirrel. This is followed by extreme (but brief) remorse and the ironic comment that Rosemary “Like me, (she) was an animal lover.” • (p.61) An early indication of Dwight’s nature – killing a deer with the car • (p.63) Rosemary’s story about the turkey farmers. • (p. 73) Dwight’s deliberate killing of the beaver – and the subsequent neglect and waste of its valuable pelt which is left to rot in the attic. • (p. 142) More on Dwight: “Dwight would shoot anything.” Followed by a list - none of the animals, it should be noted, are either edible or valuable for their pelts. Reveals more of his destructive personality. The bears at the tip are degraded by their contact with humans: • “And there were bears at the dump, rooting in garbage and rearing up now and then with cans stuck on their noses.” (p. 80) This image is not one of a noble and powerful animal, but one which has become corrupted and clownish. An exception is this image – (p. 62) as the fish move from coastal waters (Jack and Rosemary in Seattle) to the mountain rivers, the change of environment kills them. Rosemary and Jack’s first visit to Chinook is concluded with this grisly image: They were already dying. The change from salt to fresh water had turned their flesh rotten. Long strips of it hung off their bodies, waving in the current. Facades Motifs Linked to the identity theme earlier, an ongoing idea is that all people create a false version of themselves Tobias does this through the changing of his name, the construction of tales he shares with his penpal friend as well as those around him and finally the clothing/costume he is fitted upon his entry to Hill Dwight portrays himself falsely, generally in areas in which his masculinity is perceived to be lacking – his hunting, driving, sociability and parenting skills, but this is also demonstrated when he paints the entire house in Chinook white (p88) and later does the same to the Christmas tree (p123), each time Dwight is attempting to sanitise (white is a significant, symbolic colour) his domestic life in an attempt to impress others. Rosemary is not particularly good as facades and as such, avoids them however; “When she was worried she wore a pale, tight-lipped mask…. Now the mask was gone. She looked young and pretty… As we walked we made plans…. We were ourselves again—restless, scheming, poised for flight” Tobias’ father – hinted façade early in the text re. the changing of his name, and the history of their families religious leanings (‘always been Protestant. Episcopalian actually’ Actually, his family had been Jews, but I had to wait another 10 years before learning this” pp7-8) but later, the significance of his façade was completed when he left to get groceries and “had gone crazy and was now in the custody of the police” p239 Other symbols and themes Violence is definitely an important aspect of This Boys Life. One of the first instances that comes to mind is the fight between Arthur and Jack. This is the first confrontation between the two, and it goes from name calling, to swinging fists and rolling down a hill. Though Arthur and Jack do not become friends right away, this was the sparking incident that started their interactions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, violence is also used in This Boys Life to portray hurt and resentment. This is seen between Dwight and Jack. Dwight is constantly abusing Jack both physically and mentally, yet Jack does not allow to drag him down too far. Here the violence is used to portray the perseverance in Jack's personality. Jack is a healthy young boy with sight, but this may also mean that he doesn’t always see trouble coming. Jack’s blindness results in his lack of being able to stand up to his cruel friends. It also results in his inability to know the consequences of his actions.