The American Decade
“Gimpel the Fool” was first published in English translation in 1953. The 1950s are sometimes called the “American decade” because European political and military power declined in many areas of the world while the influence of the United States increased. During this time, American economic growth produced an abundance of consumer goods, the population increased by record numbers, and more people became members of the middle class. For example, the population in the United States doubled between 1900 and 1950, with a record 4.3 million births in 1957. During the 1950s the population also shifted from urban areas to suburbs; the urban population only increased 1.5 percent while the suburban population increased 44 percent.
The United States was also at the forefront of technological development. In 1954, Chinese-American An Wang developed and sold the small business calculator; 1955 saw the distribution of the first IBM business computer. Control Data Corporation produced the first commercially successful “super” computer in 1957, and the microchip was developed in 1959.
The spread of communism was a major concern to the United States during these years. The Soviet occupation forces in Germany set up a blockade between Berlin and West Germany and Czechoslovakia was taken over by communists. In 1950, the United States began a three-year involvement in the Korean War, which was fought between the democratic Republic of South Korea and communist-led North Korea. That same year, Senator Joseph McCarthy started a communist”witch hunt” with his House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Many figures in the entertainment industry were accused of having ties to the Communist Party, and the Hollywood Blacklist, which included some 300 writers, directors, and actors, was compiled. Such popular figures as Charlie Chaplin, Lee Grant, and Arthur Miller were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers. Many were driven to social and economic ruin by the accusations.
During the 1950s, the United States began to experiment with atomic energy. The first thermonuclear test took place on the Pacific atoll of Eniwetok in 1951. That same year, atomic bombs were exploded, in the presence of army troops, in the Nevada desert, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission opened the first nuclear reactor. The United States conducted another atomic bomb test on the island of Bikini in the Pacific Ocean in 1954 and also launched the Nautilus, the first nuclear- powered submarine. In 1955, the Atomic Energy Commission denied that radiation had harmful effects on human health, stating “the scare stories about how dangerous this country’s atomic tests are simply not justified.” Nevertheless, Americans were also encouraged to build air-raid shelters to protect them from enemy attack in the event of a nuclear war.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.