A Historical Background Of America English Literature Essay

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During the 1950s, the United States experienced dramatic social change. World War II had ended. Men returned home from the war changed by their experiences yet eager to begin new chapters in their lives. They came home to their families and took over as the traditional heads of their households. Some took advantage of the G.I. Bill, which offered financial aid for college tuition to those who had served in the war, while others resumed their previous careers. Women, who during the war had occupied jobs formerly performed by men, were expected to return to their domestic family duties. Children had been born and/or had grown up while their fathers were away, which often made family adjustments difficult and awkward.

At the same time, it was an era of swelling patriotism and hope for the future. The United States came out of the war victorious, and the use of atomic bombs in Japan was believed to have secured America's place as a global superpower. However, the introduction of nuclear weapons also inspired fear and anxiety. Although the United States was the only nation to use nuclear weapons in the war, other countries possessed nuclear capability. In preparation for what many considered an inevitable nuclear war, many Americans built bomb shelters for their families. The Cold War, an era of struggle and suspicion between the United States and the Soviet Union, began. Distrust gave rise to McCarthyism (a political stance opposed to subversive elements and involving personal attacks on individuals without substantial evidence), which intended to get rid of communist influences. Unfortunately, the results were disastrous and led to the persecution of innocent people.

On the surface, the 1950s were a light-hearted, innocent time of poodle skirts, sock hops (school dances), hula hoops, and the emergence of rock and roll music. The economy boomed, and new appliances and conveniences for the home made middle-class life more comfortable.

Suburban Life

Suburbia expanded in the 1950s, as large numbers of single-family homes were built on small tracts of land to accommodate post-war affluence and the baby boom. Life in the suburbs reflected the desire of families to get out of crowded urban areas and enjoy a more relaxed pace as well as to own at least a small piece of land.

Those who worked outside the home faced a daily commute into the city where there was a higher concentration of office buildings, manufacturing facilities, and job opportunities. Evenings and weekends were often taken up with activities such as golf, gardening, card-playing, community organizations, church events, and children's sports and recitals.

Many residents of suburbs, however, felt pressed to conform to an idealized concept of suburban life. The media often portrayed life in the suburbs as a near-utopian existence in which everyone was friendly, social life was vibrant, and people were carefree. The reality, however, rarely met those expectations. Writers such as Cheever and John Updike sought to reveal the emptiness that many suburbanites felt.

Compare & Contrast

1950s: In schools, children are taught how to react in the event of a bomb threat from a foreign nation. Such precautions are considered a necessary part of living in the Atomic Age. 

Today: Now that the Cold War is over, most Americans feel little threat of a full-blown nuclear war. In schools, children have fire drills and, in certain parts of the country, tornado drills.

1950s: The suburbs are considered an appropriate environment for rearing children and belonging to a tight-knit community. Because so many people in the suburbs seek a sense of community, various activities, organizations, and social networks emerge. 

Today: People move to the suburbs for the same reasons that they moved there in the 1950s. While some of the organizations and gatherings are different, the motivations to participate are the same.

1950s: Most of the country's population growth takes place in the suburbs. This dramatic growth is due to a rise in marriage and birth rates following the war. In addition, federal programs for veterans make housing more affordable. Instead of living in the city, families enjoy spacious homes with front and back yards. 

Today: Life in the suburbs is no longer a novelty, but suburbs continue to grow; in fact, the desire to live in the suburbs and population growth continue to push suburbs outward from urban areas into traditionally rural or agricultural areas, a phenomenon called suburban sprawl

Literal background

The writings of John Cheever formed an integral pillar of the 20th century realist movement 

The Realism movement was active from 1830 to 1870 and is also known as the Realist School. The movement discarded the previous traditional styles and formulas of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. The Realist artist portrays subjects in the most straightforward manner possible without idealizing them, and without following previous art theories. The earliest works from the Realist movement arose in the 18th century as a reaction against Neoclassicism and Romanticism. The works of Copley and Goya are an example of the early influences on Realism. The period was in full swing by the mid 19th century when artists became anxious with the influence of the Academies. The Ashcan school, the Contemporary Realist, and the American Scene Painters are all movements that are based on the Realist tradition. Famous artists of the Realist movement include Gustave Courbet, Honore Daumier, John Singer Sergeant, J A McNeil Whistler, Jean-Francois Millet, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

Author

Life

John Cheever (1912-1982) was an American writer known for his keen, often critical, view of the American middle class. Known primarily for his short stories, his attention to detail and careful writing found the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I have been a storyteller since the beginning of my life, rearranging facts in order to make them more significant. I have improvised a background for myself--genteel, traditional--and it is generally accepted."--John Cheever, in his journal, 1961.

Only John Cheever the storyteller could have invented a character like John Cheever the author--as, indeed, he did. His life, like the lives of the people who populate the fictional world known as Cheever Country, was double-edged. Behind the pleasant facade of the country squire lurks a vision of deteriorating morality; the satisfied suburban gentleman falls away to reveal insecurity and ambiguity.

Cheever was born May 27, 1912, in Quincy, Massachusetts, to Frederick Lincoln Cheever and Mary Liley Cheever. His father owned a shoe factory until it was lost in the Great Depression of the 1930s. His mother, an English-woman who emigrated with her parents, supported her husband and their two sons with the profits from a gift shop she operated.

This is Cheever Country: a seemingly happy New England marriage that when poked reveals a relationship strained to the point of breaking. A man--a father--who prides himself on his ability to support his family is supported by his wife.

Cheever was sent to Thayer Academy, a prep school in Milton, Massachusetts. As a 17-year-old Harvard-bound senior he arranged his own expulsion for smoking and poor grades. The result was Cheever's first published work, "Expelled," a short story that appeared in The New Republic on October 1, 1930. The story is an embryonic version in style and approach of the Cheever to evolve over five decades; it revels in the details of ordinary lives with precise observation and disciplined language.

After leaving school Cheever toured Europe with his brother, Frederick, who was seven years his senior. He then settled in Boston, where he met Hazel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, both of whom helped support the budding writer. In the mid-1930s Cheever moved to New York City, where he lived and worked in a bleak, $3-a-week boarding house on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village. During this period he helped support himself by writing synopses of books for potential M.G.M. movies. Malcolm Cowley, editor of The New Republic, also arranged for Cheever to spend time at Yaddo, a writers' colony in Saratoga to which the author would often return. It was also during this time that Cheever began his long association with The New Yorker. In 1934 the first of 119 Cheever stories was published in this sophisticated magazine.

On March 22, 1941, Cheever married Mary Winternitz. He spent four years in the army during World War II and later spent two years writing television scripts for, among other programs, "Life with Father."

In 1943 Cheever's first book of short stories, The Way Some People Live, was published. War and the Depression serve as a backdrop for these stories which deal with Cheever's lifelong subject: simply, the way some people live. It was his next collection, however, that earned him the serious praise of critics. The Enormous Radio, and Other Stories, written in Cheever's Scarborough, New York, home, was published in 1953. The 14 stories plunge the reader deep into Cheever Country; the characters--nice people all--begin with a sense of well-being and order that is stripped away and never quite fully restored. The title story, for example, portrays an average young couple who aspire to move someday from their New York apartment to Westchester. Their sense of the ordinary is shattered, however, when they buy a radio that has the fantastic ability to broadcast bits of their neighbors' lives. The radio picks up the sounds of telephones, bedtime stories, quarrels, and tales of dishonesty. This peek behind closed doors serves to destroy the couple's own outward feelings of harmony, and the story ends with the young marrieds arguing as the radio fills the room with news reports.

In 1951 Cheever was made a Guggenheim Fellow. In 1955 his short story, "The Five-Forty-Eight," was awarded the Benjamin Franklin magazine award, and the following year he took his wife and three children to Italy. Upon their return the family settled in Ossining, New York, where Cheever meticulously embellished his image as a polished aristocrat. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1957 and won the National Book Award for the first of his novels, The Wapshot Chronicle.

Cheever followed The Wapshot Chronicle with The Housebreaker of Shady Hill (1958), Some People, Places and Things That Will Not Appear in My Next Novel (1961), The Wapshot Scandal (1964), The Brigadier and the Golf Widow (1964), Bullet Park (1969), The World of Apples (1973), and Falconer (1977).

At the height of his success Cheever began a 20-year struggle with alcoholism, a problem he didn't fully admit to until his family placed him in a rehabilitation center in 1975. Earlier, in 1972, he had suffered a massive heart attack. After a long period of recovery he wrote the dark Falconer, which draws on his experience as a writing instructor in Sing Sing prison as well as on his recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. This novel, with its rough language, violence, and prison setting, is a departure from Cheever Country and is the first of his works to deal directly with homosexuality. Cheever's journals reveal that, like the protagonist of Falconer, Cheever felt ambivalence about his sexual identity.

Like his characters, John Cheever did not fit the image he so scrupulously cultivated.

"In the morning," his daughter, Susan, wrote, "my father would put on his one good suit and his gray felt hat and ride down in the elevator with the other men on their way to the office. From the lobby he would walk down to the basement, to the windowless storage room that came with our apartment. That was where he worked. There, he hung up the suit and hat and wrote all morning in his boxer shorts, typing away at his portable Underwood set up on the folding table. At lunchtime he would put the suit back on and ride up in the elevator."

John Cheever, who could find the extraordinary in the mundane, died on June 18, 1982, of cancer. His final work, Oh What A Paradise It Seems, was published posthumously.

Works

The Way Some People Live (stories, 1943)

The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (stories, 1953)

Stories (with Jean Stafford, Daniel Fuchs, and William Maxwell) (stories, 1956)

The Wapshot Chronicle (novel, 1957)

The Housebreaker of Shady Hill and Other Stories (stories, 1958)

Some People, Places and Things That Will Not Appear In My Next Novel (stories, 1961)

The Wapshot Scandal (novel, 1964)

The Brigadier and the Golf Widow (stories, 1964)

Bullet Park (novel, 1969)

The World of Apples (stories, 1973)

Falconer (novel, 1977)

The Stories of John Cheever (stories, 1978)

Oh What a Paradise It Seems (novella, 1982)

The Letters of John Cheever, edited by Benjamin Cheever (1988)

The Journals of John Cheever (1991)

Collected Stories & Other Writings (Library of America) (stories, 2009)

Complete Novels (Library of America) (novels, 2009)

Title

Before reading the story, the title expresses us the idea of just a country man.

After reading the title expresses us the stereotype of men who is the head of a family and deal with a structural, monotonous society.

External Structure:

This story is written and organized in different paragraphs and contain some dialogs. The author uses different types; stile and punctuation marks to emphasize or show actions or situations:

Italic Letters: Used to emphasize words and phrases or show dialogs and orders and also to give important names:

Louisa swings around, saying, Damn you! (Phrase).

…but Helen is lying on her bed Reading a True Romance magazine… (Book name).

He was crossing the Atlantic with her and the old Mauretania. (Famous name).

Inverted Commas: Are used to give importance to some words or phrases and also to show that somebody is speaking. They are used in dialogs:

She drew away. "I live on Belleview Avenue", She said.

"All right". He started the car. (Somebody speaking)

Hyphen: Is used to specificity ideas that had been already said or implied on it:

Determinedly-not sadly-he opened the door on his aside and walked to open hers.

...letting in the sweet noise of their continuing mortality-the idle splash and smell of heavy rain.

Internal structure

Introduction:

When the persona described how dizzy and dangerous was the flying at moment that he was returning to his house.

Open conflicts:

at the moment that he got his home and found his family, he realize that any member of his own family  does not care about what did happened road back to home. So he noticed that he had to really think about how was his life.

Rising action:

He tried to escape from his home troubles went outside, and he described all routines and monotonous daily life of his neighbourhood. Even his life was an monotonous ones, they also pretended that any trouble happened on their house only in order to seemed be fine and do not broke the balance of their calm neighbourhood and he tried to continue with their life as it was  real fine and went to farquarsons house. But something important happened to him in that flying that morning, when life gave him a second chance to live his life in a better and deeper way.  

Climax:

After the party he and his wife got back their home as usually, he was waiting for the sitter in the car and took her at home. Mrs. Heinlein used to be their sitter but she was sick so this beautiful girl was coming on from his house door and his eyes lit up. He fell in love with her, Mrs. Murchison. He found every thing was perfect on her. She was an angel who arrived to save him from this routine life and fly away from here. He though in her and her perfection every single days. Even he bought a present for her. He was really in love.

Falling actions:

When Francis knew that Clayton Thomas was engaged with Anne Murchison their sitter he felt terrible this young boy would stole his love. He was loosing his strength to fight for his unique opportunity to feel something deep and real. Everything was turned on a mess. He fought with Julia and now he was losing the control of the situations in his life, he did not know what to do with his feeling.

Conclusion: when he talked to trace about Clayton he told him really bad thing about that boy, and he did not had chance to get a good job, he lied for spite. Miss Rainey, his secretary heard him and decided to left her job because his bad action. Everything was a complete mess and he though what he had to do at that time and he decided to went to his secretary psychiatrist for help. He started saying that he was in love, as it was a big trouble. The doctor considered it as a big trouble as it would destroy the balance of his life. so the doctor recommended him to did wood works in order to not thing about it and back again to his life a tipic life of a country husband,born study get married work  get a family and be happy at to the end of your life or pretend it.

Characters:

Main:

Francis Weed: was a man that suffered a close experience with dead when he was aboard an airplane that was making an emergency crash landing. And after that he started to analyze his life. he was an intolerant person and he found himself in the middle of one dilemma when he felt in love of his babysitter,  and he created a fantasy whit her. He used that fantasy to escape from his own reality, that reality was that he was married but everything in his married was monotonous and frivolous. One day his wife Julia Weeds tried to abandon him but he convinced her to not leave him. Finally Francis went at the psychiatric to make a therapy and forgot his fantasy.

Minor

Julia Weed: was Francis Weed wife, she seemed to be  the perfect wife, that had the dinner ready at perfect time and made all the housework and apparently was a overprotected mother. But she also liked went to parties and being part of the social life of Shady Hills in others words she was gregarious and well like. In one part of the story she felt his husband didn't love her anymore, and tried to leave him, but she is convinced of changed her mind.

Anne Murchison: was a teenager which worked for the Weeds as his new babysitter. She was a girl with familiar problems and one night Francis took her at her house and after that night he felt in love of her. She was the girlfriend of Clayton Thomas.

Clayton Thomas: was a young man who was in his second or third year of college, and his father had been killed in the war. He was honest, and self-confident. He was in love of Anne Murchison.

Trace Barden: was a friend of Francis.

Gertrude Flannery: she was a stray; she liked going around in neighborhood and the narrator described her as a helpful, persuasive, honest, hungry, and loyal.  She never went home of her own choice. And she saw when Francis tried to kiss Anne.

Maid: is a woman who Francis saw at Farquarsons´ party and she seemed familiar to him.  He saw her when he was in Trenon. She was the women who had been punished at the crossroads.

Helen Weed: she was a teenager and was the oldest daughter of Francis and she was his favorite.

Louisa: was the younger daughter and she complained with his father because he always preferred Henry.

Henry Weed: was Francis older son and he always was right.

Toby Weed: was the youngest son and he was the favorite of Julia.

Donald Goslin: was a neighbor who lived at the corner and he used to play the moonlight sonata every night.

Dr Herzong: he was a psychiatrist doctor who recommended woodworks as a therapy for Francis.

Mrs. Wrightson: She was a neighbor and she was the woman who didn't invite Julia to her anniversary party.

Miss Rainey: she was the secretary who worked for Francis.

Mr Nixon: he was a neighbor and used to shout to the squirrels in his bird feeding station.

The Farquarson: they were neighbor of Shady Hills.

The Mercer: they were neighbor of Shady Hills.

Mr Henlein: she was an old lady with used to stay with the Weed´s children.

Jupiter: was the Mercer´s retriever and he appeared when Francis called him and appeared at the end of the story.

Symbols

Jupiter (a Retriever dog): Retrievers are multi-skilled dogs, for example: Police use them in their different bodies for detection and working abilities. This breed's dog is well-known of being cheerful, friendly, trusting with strangers and is always playing games. Specialists say that they should be always in free and spacious places. The participation of this pet is quite symbolical because it shows the contrast of how Francis Weed felt about his relationship with his wife and his family. He felt like closed on it self and he can't find the way of feeling freedom and out of stress.

"…she strikes a match and lights the six candles in this vale of tears." : it has a symbolical meaning because it shows that her situation or even their situation in a sense of family and in a sense of their relationship is grow staled; it is a quite exhausted, boring and the most it is tiring.

"Moonlight": It is light in the darkness. Moonlight means love, romantic emotions, serenity and a state of calm as if everything in that moment of moonlight were stand stilled, that is why it represents expectation too and expectation has to do with fertility. But also, moonlight symbolizes sexual feelings and desire.

It has a very symbolical meaning in the story because Francis Weed is between what he is or what he does in opposite to what he would like to do and what he would like to be, so that it has to do with light in the darkness meaning appearances (what we see and what we can't see of anything or of anybody).

Allusions 

"I've got sixpence": Song by Elton Box and Desmond Cox that was published in 1941. 

This song is about a man who spent all his money through singing the song, (twopence per verse) up to not having enough money to send to his wife.

Gaul: It was an area that Roman Empire rules. (France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Western Germany)

"Vale of tears": It makes allusion to a passage of The Holly Bible. Psalms 83.6-7 which says that every person is supposed to suffer through life to reach bendiction, blessing… salvation.   

 

Point of view

The story is narrated in third person singular.

Atmosphere

During Reading of the story we expect that he really made any change in his life after his bad experience in the flying crush. We hope that he would changes when realize that his life was a complete mess and when he found somebody who made him felt real deep feelings.

Theme

Appearances

Subject matter

The theme of the story is appearances, because Mr Weeds has show something that he is not, to belong the society that he is inside. So he has to hide his real feelings, thoughts and actions.

For example, his house was a completely mess but to their neighbours they were a perfectly happy family.

Mr Weed was forced to go parties that he didn't like just to fit; he was obligated not to say what he thinks.

The story makes you feel a kind of blow of freedom when he didn't care about to keep appearances but at the end he came back to his ordinary kind of life.   

Sources

John Cheever biography

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/john-cheever/

http://quazen.com/reference/biography/the-troubled-life-of-john-cheever/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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