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American Families in the Cold War Era

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This is an article review of the book “Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era” which was authored by Elaine Tyler May a professor of American studies and history, and was published by Basic Books on February 14, 1990. The book is widely researched and contained well researched information of the genesis of important American social history facet all through the cold war and the great depression impact aftermath.  In this very provocative study May poses and answers the question that is regularly asked by analyst “why made the post war American resolve to marriage and parenthood with anticipated commitment and enthusiasm?”

May case when addressing this issue is very convincing that no other book has ever gone to such height of explanation, she acclaims that during the end of the cold war, there brought raise to certain sense of crisis within the social class of the American residence mostly the middle class. From these facts she further adds that the post war was accompanied with a lot profound stresses. The author continues in a well humored manner explaining how security was undermined by modern life, and later in the late 1940s and run deep to the late 1960s, the Americans all wanted some sense of security within the vicinity of their homes which they believed was more secure than the security that the government was instilling. Secure jobs became the order of the day, a secure home and very assured secure marriage and this also applied to the country also many had lost their faith in the government to do so. However this was extended as the author clearly illustrate, that even both manifestation of international and domestic all upheld that containment was the path to security.


May further acclaims that ideological connection that underlies between sexual containment; traditional gender roles and early marriages are the results that were experience after the cold war. To this she further interconnect the thesis which in its own gospel acclaims that the functions of the family are directly connected to the cold war due to post war social science stresses. From this there was a coined theory that the author illustrate that most researchers of this subject omit, that it was perceived that a strong family had two phrases traditional gender roles and sexual restrain outside marriage. And this coined the fact that a successful marriage actually relied on the commitment of the partners that underlies the duties of the bread winner and his soul mate who was the helpmate. This is now what the author clearly illustrates of the traditional gender roles and how it came to exist of women only performing mostly house works and the men labored.

May in this well researched book about the historical event that were orchestrated by the effects of the cold war, which although many view it being too masculine is the best explanation of how the traditional gender roles which were diminishing before the cold war resurfaced and brought about new way of life among most middle class families, however the western community were the first to discard this gender roles because of the education limitation for the girl child later in the 19th century. May advocates of how sexual containment was actualized as an ideology which was openly accepted and centralizes on gender roles which were actually defined as women being mothers and men being the bread winners. According to May thesis it critically suggests that marriage was centralized as the refuge for security away from danger. Marriage was viewed as an umbrella that guaranteed security and this was mostly designated so that there would be reduction to immorality.

The domestic ideal of the nuclear family did develop in post-World War II America, this is because that as the author clearly states that although in spite of widespread ruthlessness and a seemingly chaotic world, people viewed that home was a safe haven for women and this coined and helped in reintroduction of the traditional gender roles, where men are bread winners and women home makers or helpmates. This in the book is mostly reflected on the basis of that because of the ruthlessness and the labor market had menial and masculine jobs only men could get jobs easily. This however with the insecurity in the streets also did add up for the reason that women had to resolve being house wives.

The Great Depression created a profound tension between traditional roles and challenges to these roles, this the book narrates that early 1960s when the roles were being overturned as the Great Depression was coming to a close, there were mixed up reactions as the traditional gender roles were now being thwarted because men took advantage at the fact that women were like prisoners at home and only frequented social gathering while men could afford other luxuries that included having mistresses and this created a division in nuclear family set up.

Women independence was very short lived as they had just acquired it and during World War II had to give way to a pervasive endorsement of female subordination and domesticity, May expound on this issues saying that before the cold war women had acquired some form of independence, however, during the war they had to reverse this because they had to blend with the social roles that were being offered for security, this added up containment of early marriages and infusion of traditional roles. This would later be reversed as men took advantage of the situation of being the bread winners. The fact the economy was developing and more casual laborers in the section of tailoring were needed paved way for labor opening for women and this helped to reverse the situation which took lot of courage and years to reverse.


To my own take this book exceed any scholar expectation, the way it is clearly elaborated and the way the author hybrid methodology that artistically combines qualitative analysis and demographical data within the boundaries of cultural texts. The sources that the author articulates are perfect with research memos that compliments this master piece of a book of history, May notes and coins many contradictions on other materials of the same radius while in the context of suburban familial prosperity and how it represented level of prosperity which was considered inaccessible realistic for the majority of the American residents after the end of cold war.

The only weakness in this book is the exclusion of the black American women in the context although the white majority of the middle class represent the whole middle class. To my own thought this book meets every historian expectation and the author accomplished her will while writing this master piece of a book. The thesis in the book are well researched and provided with eloquent and sufficient supporting evidence that are proof enough of a book well researched. This book is very valuable in the literature dimension and history of America in the cold war era. This book as many history book are kind of boring for scholars that are not into history is very well narrated and very interesting making the readers more glued to every page hoping for the next leaf, it a rich haven for education of the American history in literature and history discipline.


This book is centralized on the geopolitical parlance of the containment on domestic cultural policies which were affected during the Great Depression and the end of World War II in America. The author clearly and descriptive have narrated the occurrence that fostered early marriage and reintroduction of traditional gender roles which swept the women freedom that was there before the war, this reverse rhetoric and practice of the nuclear family which was considered a form and source of security and also reimbursed social practices of unity, security, and stability which was  viewed to grant in the cold warqualitative global advantage, this was the inspiration for the mobilization of nuclear family.

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