Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960

Overview

Visions of Belonging explores how beloved and still-remembered family stories -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I Remember Mama, Gentleman's Agreement, Death of a Salesman, Marty, and A Raisin in the Sun -- entered the popular imagination and shaped collective dreams in the postwar years and into the 1950s. These stories helped define widely shared conceptions of who counted as representative Americans and who could be recognized as belonging.

The book listens in as white and black ...

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Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960

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Overview

Visions of Belonging explores how beloved and still-remembered family stories -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I Remember Mama, Gentleman's Agreement, Death of a Salesman, Marty, and A Raisin in the Sun -- entered the popular imagination and shaped collective dreams in the postwar years and into the 1950s. These stories helped define widely shared conceptions of who counted as representative Americans and who could be recognized as belonging.

The book listens in as white and black authors and directors, readers and viewers reveal divergent, emotionally textured, and politically charged social visions. Their diverse perspectives provide a point of entry into an extraordinary time when the possibilities for social transformation seemed boundless. But changes were also fiercely contested, especially as the war's culture of unity receded in the resurgence of cold war anticommunism, and demands for racial equality were met with intensifying white resistance. Judith E. Smith traces the cultural trajectory of these family stories, as they circulated widely in bestselling paperbacks, hit movies, and popular drama on stage, radio, and television.

Visions of Belonging provides unusually close access to a vibrant conversation among white and black Americans about the boundaries between public life and family matters and the meanings of race and ethnicity. Would the new appearance of white working class ethnic characters expand Americans'understanding of democracy? Would these stories challenge the color line? How could these stories simultaneously show that black families belonged to the larger "family" of the nation while also representing the forms of danger and discriminations that excluded them from full citizenship? In the 1940s, war-driven challenges to racial and ethnic borderlines encouraged hesitant trespass against older notions of "normal." But by the end of the 1950s, the cold war cultural atmosphere discouraged probing of racial and social inequality and ultimately turned family stories into a comforting retreat from politics.

The book crosses disciplinary boundaries, suggesting a novel method for cultural history by probing the social history of literary, dramatic, and cinematic texts. Smith's innovative use of archival research sets authorial intent next to audience reception to show how both contribute to shaping the contested meanings of American belonging.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Interdisciplinary History - Elaine Tyler May

Visions of Belonging is a monumental work of cultural history... Judith Smith has challenged the common wisdom... And made a powerful contribution.

Journal of American Ethnic History - Dara Orenstein

A powerful & meticulously researched study of fourteen stories that helped to plot the boundaries of cultural citizenship.

Journal of American History - Joseph Hawes

[It] is full of vitality and is bound to be used, cited, and assigned to generations of students.

American Historical Review - Renee Romano

Smith has written an important book that will serve as a great resource for historians of American postwar culture and politics.

Film International - Paul Buhle

A very remarkable and extremely useful book.

H-Net Reviews - Crista DeLuzio

[This] consistently nuanced and impeccably informed analysis... raises provocative questions.

Film Quarterly - Martin Fradley

Highly readable and sensitively written.

American Studies - William Graebner

[A] rich, fascinating, and important book.

Choice

Smith's treatment gives readers much to consider...Highly recommended.

Choice

Smith's treatment gives readers much to consider...Highly recommended.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Visions of Belonging is a monumental work of cultural history... Judith Smith has challenged the common wisdom... And made a powerful contribution.

— Elaine Tyler May

Canadian Review of American Studies

Smith's Visions of Belonging is a masterpiece of interdisciplinary scholarship. Research, narrative, and analysis are all exemplary, making the book a 'must read' on the topic of post-war American cultural and social history.

Journal of American Ethnic History
A powerful & meticulously researched study of fourteen stories that helped to plot the boundaries of cultural citizenship.

— Dara Orenstein

Journal of American History
[It] is full of vitality and is bound to be used, cited, and assigned to generations of students.

— Joseph Hawes

American Historical Review
Smith has written an important book that will serve as a great resource for historians of American postwar culture and politics.

— Renee Romano

Film International
A very remarkable and extremely useful book.

— Paul Buhle

H-Net Reviews
[This] consistently nuanced and impeccably informed analysis... raises provocative questions.

— Crista DeLuzio

Film Quarterly
Highly readable and sensitively written.

— Martin Fradley

American Studies
[A] rich, fascinating, and important book.

— William Graebner

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Judith E. Smith is professor of American studies at University of Massachusetts Boston and the author of Family Connections: A History of Italian and Jewish Immigrant Lives in Providence, Rhode Island, 1900-1940.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsPart 1 Ordinary Families, Popular Culture, and Popular Democracy, 1935-1945 Radio's Formula DramaPopular Theater and Popular DemocracyPopular Democracy on the RadioPopular Democracy in Wartime: Multiethnic and Multiracial?Representing the SoldierThe New World of the Home FrontSoldiers as Veterans: Imagining the Postwar WorldLooking Back StoriesPart 2 Making the Working-Class Family Ordinary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn From Working-Class Daughter to Working-Class WriterRevising 1930s Radical VisionsRemembering a Working-Class PastInstructing the Middle ClassThe Ethnic and Racial Boundaries of the OrdinaryMaking Womanhood OrdinaryHollywood Revises A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe Declining Appeal of Tree's Social TerrainPart 3 Home Front Harmony and Remembering Mama "Mama's Bank Account" and Other Ethnic Working-Class FictionsRemembering Mama on the StageThe Mother Next Door on Film, 1947-1948Mama on CBS, 1949-1956The Appeal of TV Mama's Ordinary Family"Trading Places" StoriesPart 4 Loving Across Prewar Racial and Sexual Boundaries Lillian Smith and Strange FruitQuality Reinstates the Color LineStrange Fruit as Failed Social DramaThe Returning Negro Soldier, Interracial Romance, and Deep Are the RootsInterracial Male Homosociability in Home of the BravePart 5 "Seeing Through" Jewishness Perception and Racial Boundaries in FocusPolicing Racial and Gender Boundaries in The Brick FoxholeRecasting the Victim in CrossfireDeracializing Jewishness in Gentleman's AgreementPart 6 Hollywood Makes Race (In)Visible "A Great Step Forward": The Film Home of the BraveLost Boundaries: Racial Indeterminacy as WhitenessPinky: Racial Indeterminacy as BlacknessTrading Places or No Way Out?Everyman StoriesPart 7 Competing Postwar Representations of Universalism The "Truly Universal People": Richard Durham's Destination FreedomThe Evolution of Arthur Miller's Ordinary FamilyMiller's Search for "the People," 1947-1948The Creation of an Ordinary American Tragedy: Death of a SalesmanThe Rising Tide of AnticommunismPart 8 Marital Realism and Everyman Love Stories Marital Realism Before and After the BlacklistThe Promise of Live Television DramaPaddy Chayefsky's Everyman EthnicityConservative and Corporate Constraints on Representing the OrdinaryFilming Television's "Ordinary": Marty's Everyman RomancePart 9 Reracializing the Ordinary American Family: Raisin in the Sun Lorraine Hansberry's South Side ChildhoodLeaving Home, Stepping "Deliberately Against the Beat"The Freedom Family and the Black Left"I Am a Writer": Hansberry in Greenwich VillageRaisin in the Sun: Hansberry's Conception, Audience ReceptionFrozen in the Frame: The Film of RaisinVisions of BelongingNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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