During the 1950s, the United States experienced dramatic social change. World War II had ended. Men returned home from the war changed by their experiences yet eager to begin new chapters in their lives. They came home to their families and took over as the traditional heads of their households. Some took advantage of the G.I. Bill, which offered financial aid for college tuition to those who had served in the war, while others resumed their previous careers. Women, who during the war had occupied jobs formerly performed by men, were expected to return to their domestic family duties. Children had been born and/or had grown up while their fathers were away, which often made family adjustments difficult and awkward.
At the same time, it was an era of swelling patriotism and hope for the future. The United States came out of the war victorious, and the use of atomic bombs in Japan was believed to have secured America’s place as a global superpower. However, the introduction of nuclear weapons also inspired fear and anxiety. Although the United States was the only nation to use nuclear weapons in the war, other countries possessed nuclear capability. In preparation for what many considered an inevitable nuclear war, many Americans built bomb shelters for their families. The Cold War, an era of struggle and suspicion between the United States and the Soviet Union, began. Distrust gave rise to McCarthyism (a political stance opposed to subversive elements and involving personal attacks on individuals without substantial evidence), which intended to get rid of communist influences. Unfortunately, the results were disastrous and led to the persecution of innocent people.
On the surface, the 1950s were a light-hearted, innocent time of poodle skirts, sock hops (school dances), hula hoops, and the emergence of rock and roll music. The economy boomed, and new appliances and conveniences for the home made middle-class life more comfortable.
Suburbia expanded in the 1950s, as large numbers of single-family homes were built on small tracts of land to accommodate post-war affluence and the baby boom. Life in the suburbs reflected the desire of families to get out of crowded urban areas and enjoy a more relaxed pace as well as to own at least a small piece of land.
Those who worked outside the home faced a daily commute into the city where there was a higher concentration of office buildings, manufacturing facilities, and job opportunities. Evenings and weekends were often taken up with activities such as golf, gardening, card-playing, community organizations, church events, and children’s sports and recitals.
Many residents of suburbs, however, felt pressed to conform to an idealized concept of suburban life. The media often portrayed life in the suburbs as a near-utopian existence in which everyone was friendly, social life was vibrant, and people were carefree. The reality, however, rarely met those expectations. Writers such as Cheever and John Updike sought to reveal the emptiness that many suburbanites felt.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, John Cheever – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.