A Summary of “Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era” Book by Elaine Tyler May
Elaine Tyler May book is an attempt to draw the link between the international politics and the family dynamics in the post war and cold war eras. The fundament question in the book is why the postwar Americans turned to marriage and parenthood with such a great enthusiasm and commitment. The author argues that the new family ideals that emerged during this period were not accidental but a strategic response toward the threat that the Americans were facing. What was a political containment became a domestic containment. The young Americans found that marrying early and procreating was the only way that they could resist the enemy, communist. That was the new sense of patriotism.
The finding of May is a build up to series of surveys, Kelly Longitudinal Study, initiated by psychologist E. Lowell Kelly in late 1930s together with other professional data. A Summary of “Homeward Bound Basically, Kelly’s study involved a survey of 300 newly wed, middle class white couples, who responded on the situation of their marriages, children career, sexuality, and their hopes and worries. The couples presented the lifestyle that every other young couple aspired to live. A newly wed couple that decided to spend their honeymoon in a bombs helter is the striking image for this exposure.
May draws the connection between the nuclear family that emerged in America and the nuclear age. To draw the difference May describes the kind of family that existed in prewar period, precisely the depression period. The author recounts how the financial strains in the depression period had caused instability in the marriage institution. At this period birth rates were much lower and often marriage ended in divorce. In addition young men shied away from marriage for fear that they would not be able to provide for their spouses. In contradiction, the post war and the cold era bred a new set of family ideals.
The family in the post war and cold war era become more cohesive and stable.A Summary of “Homeward Bound Couples worked hard to sustain their marriages. Couple consulted a psychiatrist instead of a divorce. Again, the couples become more child centered. Although May is more concerned with the relationship between a man and a wife, he does not fail to attribute the new family trend to the child boom of the 1956.
This new trend was not accidental but a deliberate response to the dangers that Americans were facing. May observes that it is not that the new couples did not have a choice, but “they made the choices they believed they had to make” (207). A Summary of “Homeward Bound The choices that they made were heavily influenced by the institutional, cultural, and historical constraints. Beside the need for individual security, young Americans felt the need to protect their country against the foreign powers precisely the communist. From this observation May argue that security is not just a matter of foreign policy but also a concern of the family unit. Married couples at this time saw the need of stable families as a building block to national security. There was also a new set of sexual mores that was attached to the post war period where sex became a preserve of the married couples, and more of procreation.
The postwar and cold war era also became an era of expert. American consulted building expert on the way to build save homes and constantly consulted the Federal Civil Defense Administration on the possible threats. Psychiatrist also became crucial professionals in sustaining marriages.A Summary of “Homeward Bound On the other hand, couple stocked their bomb shelters with consumer goods and learnt survival tactics incase of an emergency. However, May observes that the postwar period had less impact to those who did not have access to information like those who did not have a television simply because they were not aware of what was going on.