Changes in American Society
In The Early 1970s, Americanswerestilldealingwith and reeling from the massive social changes of the revolutionary 1960s. The rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, for example, led to many aspects of this movement, such as questioning authority and tradition, being incorporated into mainstream American society in the 1970s. The administration of Richard M. Nixon, who took office in 1969, continued to escalate American involvement in the Vietnam War. By 1973, a peace treaty had been reached and American troops soon withdrew from Vietnam. The United States and South Vietnam were essentially defeated when the communist forces from North Vietnam took over the whole of the country in 1975. The Counterculture Movement, the Vietnam War, and other problems left Americans questioning themselves, their society, and their place in the world. Over the next decade, Americans became less optimistic and more apathetic and passive, politically and otherwise, especially after the Watergate scandal brought the Nixon presidency to an early end in 1974. Some critics believe that in this short story Tyler was reacting to changes American society asCarpenter wants to control his fate in a world undergoing massive changes. She also included a counterculture type of character in the motorcycle rider who gives Carpenter a ride to his daughter’s home in Baltimore.
Gray Panthers and Other Activist Movements
Despite the changes in American society, many Americans were restless and questioned traditional authorities and assumptions. There were a number of high-profile, effective social justice and liberation movements in the 1970s. The feminist movement fought to become a greater part of mainstream American life, while gay rights, Native American, Chicano, and handicapped activists gained ground. While feminists were trying to effect real change in American society by confronting sexual subordination and male dominance, African American activists continued to confront racial discrimination and the rule of white elites.
In 1970, Maggie Kuhn organized the first prominent activist group for older Americans. Founded with a few friends, it was originally called the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change. Dubbed the Gray Panthers by a New York talk show producer, Kuhn and her group dealt with the issues facing retirees and the elderly, including loss of income, role in society, and the lack of networking opportunities. While the Gray Panthers primarily focused on the problems and challenges facing the elderly, they also spoke out about the Vietnam War, race relations, health care, housing reform, and other concerns of mainstream American society through sit-ins, picket lines, demonstrations, and media appearances.
Though Kuhn’s group started small, its growing membership led to the organization of local networks during in the 1970s. By 1975, the Gray Panthers held their first national convention. Three years later, Congress passed laws to end age discrimination and increase the age of mandatory retirement from sixty-five to seventy. By the mid-1980s, the Gray Panthers had a public policy office in Washington, D.C.; by 1995, the group had seventy thousand members. In ‘‘With All Flags Flying’’ Carpenter is not a Gray Panther or activist, but his quest to control his fate reflects a core value of the group, to stand up for one’s own rights and beliefs no matter what kind of pressure is faced.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Anne Tyler, Published by Gale Group, 2010