Visions of Belonging

Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960

Judith E. Smith

Columbia University Press

Visions of Belonging

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Pub Date: May 2006

ISBN: 9780231121712

464 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $34.00£27.00

Pub Date: September 2004

ISBN: 9780231121705

464 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£70.00

Pub Date: September 2004

ISBN: 9780231509268

464 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $33.99£27.00

Visions of Belonging

Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960

Judith E. Smith

Columbia University Press

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.
Smith's treatment gives readers much to consider...Highly recommended. Choice
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, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
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. Canadian Review of American Studies
A powerful & meticulously researched study of fourteen stories that helped to plot the boundaries of cultural citizenship. Dara Orenstein, Journal of American Ethnic History
[It] is full of vitality and is bound to be used, cited, and assigned to generations of students. Joseph Hawes, Journal of American History
Smith has written an important book that will serve as a great resource for historians of American postwar culture and politics. Renee Romano, American Historical Review
A very remarkable and extremely useful book. Paul Buhle, Film International
[This] consistently nuanced and impeccably informed analysis... raises provocative questions. Crista DeLuzio, H-Net Reviews
Highly readable and sensitively written. Martin Fradley, Film Quarterly
[A] rich, fascinating, and important book. William Graebner, American Studies
Acknowledgments
Part 1. Ordinary Families, Popular Culture, and Popular Democracy, 1935-1945
Radio's Formula Drama
Popular Theater and Popular Democracy
Popular Democracy on the Radio
Popular Democracy in Wartime: Multiethnic and Multiracial?
Representing the Soldier
The New World of the Home Front
Soldiers as Veterans: Imagining the Postwar World
Looking Back Stories
Part 2. Making the Working-Class Family Ordinary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
From Working-Class Daughter to Working-Class Writer
Revising 1930s Radical Visions
Remembering a Working-Class Past
Instructing the Middle Class
The Ethnic and Racial Boundaries of the Ordinary
Making Womanhood Ordinary
Hollywood Revises A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Declining Appeal of Tree's Social Terrain
Part 3. Home Front Harmony and Remembering Mama
"Mama's Bank Account" and Other Ethnic Working-Class Fictions
Remembering Mama on the Stage
The Mother Next Door on Film, 1947-1948
Mama on CBS, 1949-1956
The Appeal of TV Mama's Ordinary Family
"Trading Places" Stories
Part 4. Loving Across Prewar Racial and Sexual Boundaries
Lillian Smith and Strange Fruit
Quality Reinstates the Color Line
Strange Fruit as Failed Social Drama
The Returning Negro Soldier, Interracial Romance, and Deep Are the Roots
Interracial Male Homosociability in Home of the Brave
Part 5. "Seeing Through" Jewishness
Perception and Racial Boundaries in Focus
Policing Racial and Gender Boundaries in The Brick Foxhole
Recasting the Victim in Crossfire
Deracializing Jewishness in Gentleman's Agreement
Part 6. Hollywood Makes Race (In)Visible
"A Great Step Forward": The Film Home of the Brave
Lost Boundaries: Racial Indeterminacy as Whiteness
Pinky: Racial Indeterminacy as Blackness
Trading Places or No Way Out?
Everyman Stories
Part 7. Competing Postwar Representations of Universalism
The "Truly Universal People": Richard Durham's Destination Freedom
The Evolution of Arthur Miller's Ordinary Family
Miller's Search for "the People," 1947-1948
The Creation of an Ordinary American Tragedy: Death of a Salesman
The Rising Tide of Anticommunism
Part 8. Marital Realism and Everyman Love Stories
Marital Realism Before and After the Blacklist
The Promise of Live Television Drama
Paddy Chayefsky's Everyman Ethnicity
Conservative and Corporate Constraints on Representing the Ordinary
Filming Television's "Ordinary": Marty's Everyman Romance
Part 9. Reracializing the Ordinary American Family: Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry's South Side Childhood
Leaving Home, Stepping "Deliberately Against the Beat"
The Freedom Family and the Black Left
"I Am a Writer": Hansberry in Greenwich Village
Raisin in the Sun: Hansberry's Conception, Audience Reception
Frozen in the Frame: The Film of Raisin
Visions of Belonging
Notes
Index

About 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.