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Homeward Bound: American Families In The Cold War Era [Paperback]

Elaine Tyler May
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era 3.5 out of 5 stars (20)
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Book Description

February 14, 1990 0465030556 978-0465030552
In the 1950s, the term ”containment” referred to the foreign policy-driven containment of Communism and atomic proliferation. Yet in Homeward Bound May demonstrates that there was also a domestic version of containment where the ”sphere of influence” was the home. Within its walls, potentially dangerous social forces might be tamed, securing the fulfilling life to which postwar women and men aspired. Homeward Bound tells the story of domestic containment - how it emerged, how it affected the lives of those who tried to conform to it, and how it unraveled in the wake of the Vietnam era’s assault on Cold War culture, when unwed mothers, feminists, and ”secular humanists” became the new ”enemy.” This revised and updated edition includes the latest information on race, the culture wars, and current cultural and political controversies of the post-Cold War era.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

May (history, Minnesota) seeks to reconcile two prevailing but contradictory images of the 1950s: the notion of domestic tranquility and happiness amidst the fears and tensions of the Cold War. She does so by locating American family life within the larger political culture and by arguing that the retreat to the privacy and security of the home was a response to the era's political insecurities. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including data on 300 couples, she finds ideological connections between Cold War policies and conservative social "norms." A provocative thesis that will stir debate. Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A provocative, challenging, persuasive interpretation of the internal dynamics that shaped America family life in the postwar years." -- -- William Chafe, Duke University

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (February 14, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030552
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cold War's Home Front June 3, 2000
Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (1988, New York: Basic Books, Inc., rev. and updated edn., 1999)
In the introduction to this provocative study of an important facet of American social history during the Cold War, author Elaine Tyler May, who is Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota, asks: "Why did postwar Americans turn to marriage and parenthood with such enthusiasm and commitment?" Her answer is that, in an era when United States foreign policy attempted to "contain" the expansion of Communism, it was quite natural for white, middle-class Americans, the dominant segment of the society, to adopt the ideology May calls "domestic containment." According to May, Americans embraced domesticity during the early years of the Cold War because "the home seemed to offer a secure private nest removed from the dangers of the outside world." May proceeds to explain: ""Americans turned to the family as a bastion of safety in an insecure world." Furthermore, according to May: "Domestic containment was bolstered by a power political culture that rewarded its adherents and marginalized its detractors."
The period from 1929 through 1945, which encompassed the Great Depression and World War II, had been an age of great anxiety. But May makes a convincing case that "the end of World War II brought a new sense of crisis" and that the postwar world was full of its own stresses. According to May, "the freedom of modern life seemed to undermine security." As a result, from the late 1940s and well into the 1960s, she writes that Americans "wanted secure jobs, secure homes, and secure marriages in a secure country.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A landmark text in the field of American Studies April 11, 2002
Elaine Tyler May's text "Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era", remains a classic in American Studies-and example of relevant, clear, well-written scholarship utilizing a variety of data to make a interesting and important case. This is not to say that the work has no weaknesses, but it remains in many ways an enduring, if somewhat superceded landmark in American cultural studies.
Tyler May's central thesis of the book is that the foreign policy of the "containment" of communism, summarized and popularized by Secretary John Foster Dulles, paralleled the rise of a domestic politics of containment, where the home space became a way to contain the economic, sexual, and social desires of both women and men. Moreover, the construction of this home space necessitated the casting of gender, sexual, and social roles in rigorous, socially compulsory terms that effectively marginalized many people from ethnic, sexual, and ideological minorities. These roles, constructed through the politics of domestic containment, were held in majority American culture to be necessary to the social survival and maintenance of capitalism in the Cold War struggle against the Soviets. Women in particular, are focused on, as the strong, independent, single role models of the 1930's gave way to increased imagery of the married, safely domesticated woman, who were under heavy societal pressure to give birth and raise children. Men too were constrained by corporate superiors, and looked to home as the one place they could exercise full influence over their wives and children. Not everyone, of course, was happy with this.
A number of surprising arguments are made and defended in this book as sub-theses to the greater point.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing premise October 31, 2005
From the 1940s through the early 1960s, Americans married in greater numbers, at a younger age, and with a greater resistance to divorce than either their parents' or their children's generation. There occurred a remarkable dash into the domestic embrace of marriage and parenthood as American women abandoned their wartime jobs and joyfully rushed into the arms of returning World War II soldiers.

But what provided the impetus for this yearning? The World War II generation was raised by parents who had come of age basking in the hedonistic pleasures of the Roaring Twenties following their return from the First World War. And their Baby-Boom counter-culture offspring were certainly no traditionalists. Both of these generations had in fact challenged conventional sexual norms while pushing the divorce rate up and the birth rate down. What then made the World War II generation different? What motivated them to embrace the roles of the traditional family with such desperate fervor and commitment? Homeward Bound is Elaine Tyler May's attempt to explain this sociological phenomenon by linking it to international politics.

According to Tyler May, it was the Cold War that provided the impetus. Americans embraced domesticity during the early years of the Cold War because "the home seemed to offer a secure private nest removed from the dangers of the outside world." This mass retreat to the privacy and security of the home was in response to the twin threats of communist encroachment and potential nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Specifically, Tyler May contends that the U.S. foreign policy of communist "containment" gave rise to the parallel societal view that the home could effectively contain the economic, sexual, and social desires of American women and men.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I feel like I already knew all this.
So, apparently if I have seen something, then I still have to cite it from this era. Weird, because I saw all of this on television and read it in the magazines. Read more
Published 2 months ago by The Sassy Countess
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe Home Bound?
Other reviewers complained that this wasn't history. If by that they meant it wasn't the nostalgia-soaked 1950s as Leave It To Beaver and Happy Days, they're right. Read more
Published 4 months ago by parallel
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in the 1950s - Not So "Picture Perfect"
Elaine Tyler May opened her book, <i>Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era</i>, with a description of a 1959 publicity stunt. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rebecca S Dobrinski
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a Normal History Book
This book was given as reading for a 'normal' American History class at the college level. It belongs in a social history class or a feminist history class, her writing style takes... Read more
Published 8 months ago by R. Wilkenson
2.0 out of 5 stars Homeward Bound
I do not like the book, it has nothing to do with American History which is the class that I am reading it for. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Vicki Jowers
1.0 out of 5 stars Vertigo....eye bleeder (why is there no option for NEGATIVE stars)
This was a required book for a class and I had high hopes...WRONG!!! E.T. May must have undiagnosed A.D.D. because she was all over the place (enough to give the reader Vertigo)! Read more
Published on February 3, 2012 by fan of Kate Chopin
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting observations about the 50s, some pretty questionable
The main idea of Homeward Bound is that society's definition of an ideal family structure, and the role of women in the family, in bed, and in the workplace, evolved throughout... Read more
Published on October 20, 2011 by L. S. Reed
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical perspective
If you lived through this era, and wondered what was going on or what continues to go on. You will enjoy the insight of this book which puts many things in historic perspective.
Published on April 27, 2011 by Burt
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time
The text relies too heavily on the Kelly Longitudinal Study. This was a lop-sided study taken from the late 30s to the mid 50s. Read more
Published on December 7, 2008 by C Garman
3.0 out of 5 stars Hollywood Does not equal popular belief
Throughout the book, the author continually uses Hollywood movies as proof that the beliefs she advocates were popularly believed. Read more
Published on December 26, 2007 by ESB
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