I had to write this essay for a history class. It’s about the 1950’s.
A family of four (husband, wife, son, daughter) crowd around their new television, as a peppy theme song for their new television show starts, and they sit on their new couch, enjoying their new sodas, bought from their new supermarket, which was built next to their new suburban home, in the new suburb, next to the new highway, which was paved for the new cars, which will be driven by new middle-class people, to their new jobs, because of their new degrees. This is the 1950’s in the United States. A new era. The 1950’s population boom, commonly referred to as the “baby boom” generation (MPAH, p. 330), brought about a lot of change and new thinking. The new middle-class white citizens embarked on a new journey of materialism, wealth, and new adventures. However, this time period has a dark side. It was not all “Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days” for the country. Although the 1950’s are categorized as being one of the finest decades in the United States, it also brought out a scary and selfish side of America that has never been precedent before. Engaging the United States was sexism, laziness, materialism, the Red Scare, racism, and xenophobia. The fifties brought a new hope to the country. Yet, it also brought something else that was new: a new tragedy. The 1950’s brought new psychological, social, and political tensions that shaped the way the U.S. citizens thought and lived.
The United States’ citizens were being wrapped up into new psychological apprehension that has never been seen before. Women’s internal struggle, the need for new materialistic wealth, the Red Scare, and xenophobia are just a few examples of new psychological struggles citizens were faced with. In the 1950’s, there was always an internal conflict going on in a woman’s mind between trying to succeed to her own standards and striving to fit society’s standards (document 9, p. 343). Women were imprisoned to their own thoughts. Women desired to be freethinking and to be equal to men. However, the 1950’s brought back pre-1920’s thinking. Instead of bringing new hope and freedom to women, the 1950’s brought back an outdated system of women being defined as exclusively housekeepers. Women’s minds were battlegrounds between freedom and imprisonment. People were also fighting to “keep up with the Joneses.” The desire to buy the best and to keep buying brought forth a new psychological debate that Americans never had to face before. The Americans had a new desire to buy for themselves and for their children in order to prove that they were no longer in the Great Depression (document 4, p. 336). Everybody in the 1950’s also had to deal with a new psychological feeling of hatred and xenophobia. They hated everything that was different. Whether it was a different looking house, to even hating people who were different than them. Whether it was the retreating to the suburbs to get away from the black citizens in the city or hating different races and calling them communists (textbook, p. 1044). The Red Scare brought forth a new fear of Russia and other communist countries because of propaganda, wars, and even just public hysteria. Children were also dealing with this as well (document 1, p. 333). The psychological bearings that the 1950’s brought were chastising the minds of citizens and are quickly forgotten about when talking about the “Happy Days” 1950’s. However, these worries not only existed, but they were forefront worries in the minds of U.S. citizens.
Social nuances such as sexism, materialism, television, family issues, racism, and conformity ran amuck during the 1950’s. Sexism was blatant and back into the lives of Americans. Women were again placed at the forefront of the “social purification” agenda. Men and even other women stressed that women were to be good housewives, and to not worry about getting a college degree or to advance as a human being (document 2, p. 333). Society wanted a woman’s primary goal to not be to better herself, but rather her husband and her family’s interests (document 3, p. 335). Materialism was becoming a part of everyday society. Society used to be just fine with what they had, but the 1950’s made every American want the newer and better item. Some believe that materialism stemmed from the want to get their sons and daughters what they could not get when they were growing up due to the Great Depression. Television was becoming to have a societal value. Fifty million new TV’s were purchased by 1960 (MPAH, p. 331). You had to not only own a nice new television, but to also keep up with all the shows (Diggins, p. 345). Children would spend hours watching cartoons (document 1, p. 332). The issues of the family also troubled society. Families were breaking apart (Coontz, p 354). Whether it was the extensive rise of cheating husbands or the rising divorce rate, families were being destroyed from the inside (Diggins, p. 350). Racism was also prevalent. The society was still not completely free of slavery. Yes, labor slavery has long been banned, however racial freedom and equality was nowhere near perfect in the 1950’s. When you think of the perfect family from the 1950’s, you think of a white middle class family (Coontz, p. 352). Also, racism was occurring in the North, and not just the South. Many Americans left the city to their white suburbs, leaving behind an empty shell of what used to be the city (document 8, p. 331). Poor people and blacks were left in the dust, because highway systems and Urban Sprawl began. Conformity was also a new social struggle. The idea of conforming was something that people feared, but ran right into it (document 5, p. 337). Everyone wanted to be just like everyone else: have the same new house, car, television, etc, but people wanted to be individualistic. This hypocrisy was widespread through much of society in the 1950’s. The society during this decade was looked at as a nice and new society. However, the society was not near perfect, and many of its highest morals were not held true and deliberately disobeyed and forgotten.
Political hardships were also a plague during the 1950’s. Politics in the United States meant dealing with the endless threat of nuclear war and communism by Russia, the Korean War, as well as dealing with domestic problems such as the rising Civil Rights movement. Russia and the United States were in a non-combat war during the 1950’s. This war was a political nightmare. The arms race and continual threat of nuclear war made the war very stressful. The fear that Russia and the United States could just push a button and destroy the world was a very real possibility. Russia was also taking over Eastern Europe and controlling many countries to create the USSR. This take over was also fearful to many Americans and the world, because they were spreading communism throughout those countries. The fear of communism and of the USSR was what caused the Red Scare (named after the red color usually associated with the USSR). President Truman used powers that went beyond executive powers to control the relationship between Russia and the United States (textbook, p. 1013). The Korean War was another political mess. The Korean War stemmed from the Cold War and became a place of battle for democracy (textbook, p. 1021). Another political uproar was the Civil Rights Movement (textbook, p. 1038). The Civil Rights Movement was the social movement by blacks to achieve what they should have earned in 1776 and at the very least post-Civil War: rights. Often the protests by blacks would have been peaceful protests. Some famous peaceful protests were the sit-ins at restaurants or the “Freedom Rides.” However, not all protests would end up peaceful. White Southerners were quick to extinguish any followers and protests with violence and hatred. Then the black people started to get violent as well with the Black Panther group. Political leaders were being torn between picking the side of black or white. Politics are almost always under scrutiny, and the 1950’s were no different. The political struggles were both international and domestic.
The 1950’s brought many hardships to the United States. It was not as peaceful and easy as many television shows convey. It was a time of new homes and families, but with the new loves came the new tragedy. A time filled with fear and constant turmoil of races, sexes, and classes. The fifties in America will always be remembered for how great it was. It will be remembered for the TV shows, rock n’ roll, the nuclear family, the suburbs, the new cars, the middle-class, and, of course, their cigarettes. However, there is a hidden underbelly to this beautiful monster: The New Tragedy.