In the 1950’s, the “American dream” was originated around the idea that anyone could have the opportunity to achieve more success than in their countries of origin; for others, it was the opportunity to become an individual without the constraints imposed by class, race, and ethnicity. In the 1950’s, the foundation of the American dream was masked by the illusion of perfect white “cookie-cutter” families living in suburbia. However, negative and pessimistic thoughts about race and culture poisoned many minds, making it difficult for immigrants and minorities to realize their own idea of the American Dream.
At the end of WWII, soldiers were coming back to their families with the desire for prosperity. With the implementation of the G. I bill, countless families moved from the cities into the suburbs. Government paid programs opened up suburbia to growing numbers of middle class Americans, creating secure jobs for blue-collar workers. Suburbs blossomed into the ideal white neighborhood, where the “American Dream” was to be realized.
It was the idea that every young man should marry a young, presentable woman and have darling children.
These families would live in the cutout house with a cute kitchen, well-kept yard, and the white picket fence surrounding. The father became the strong figure, working hard to earn for his family; whereas, the mother would stay at home, raise the children, and tend to her husband once he came home. With the G. I bill in effect, property taxes were lowered substantially, making suburbia desirable for any white family. On the surface, this idealization may have seemed perfect, but there were many shortcomings that resulted from this illusion.
Women were objectified; they essentially had to be the perfect wife and mother. In the 1950’s, women could not pursue their true aspirations, whether they wanted to be CEO of a company, or even start their own business. It was absurd for a woman to become the breadwinner of the family, for this only added to the illusion of the American Dream. Women did not have the opportunity to achieve their own individual desires due to restrictions imposed on their “status” in society.
In Betty Friedan’s excerpt from, American Identities, she illuminates how women suffered in the 1950’s, by stating, “Each suburban wife struggled with it alone…they learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights…. ”(Rudnick, 72). Friedan goes on to emphasize how societal views have caused women’s “ greatest ambition” to be marriage and children. Her biggest point eludes that “it is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban housewife, the continual demands on her time.
But the chains that bind her in her trap are chains of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices” (Rudnick, 76). In addition, white men may have seemed to have the perfect job with the perfect family; however, supporting an entire family and working constantly dampens the surface view of the American dream. As a result of the “white-flight,” the cities were open to those who desired a better life in America. The concept of the American dream enticed immigrants to leave their countries, and have a new start in a better place.
With the masses of immigrants coming to the country, high-rise buildings in the cities were set up to house their needs. With the yearning of a new life, immigrants took on low wage jobs and cramped up in housing projects, only soon to see that the American Dream was not so ideal. American life became extremely difficult with the influx of immigrants, as property taxes increased and job wages substantially decreased. The cities became segregated by the ethnic groups that occupied them; this in turn only added to the hardship that immigrants faced.
In Jack Agueros’ excerpt from, American Identities, he explains how his father emigrated from Puerto Rico in search of a better life, but was soon to find out that city life was tough. “Into an ancient neighborhood came pouring four to five times more people than it had been designed to hold. Men who came running at the promise of jobs were jobless…the sudden surge in numbers caused new resentments, and prejudice was intensified” (Rudnick, 97).
Along with struggling to support their families, the segregation of the city turned into ghettos, where violence between ethnic groups surfaced. The safe cities that were once filled with white families were now dangerous and defined by territories. The American Dream was left to be desired for immigrants, as families struggled just to survive and meet their basic needs. Along with the hardships faced by many immigrants, African Americans were unable to pursue the American Dream because of societies discriminatory thoughts of colored individuals.
African Americans were the backbone of the typical American family in the 1950’s, as they kept suburban houses clean and took care of white families’ children. African Americans took on low-wage jobs and were unable to realize their dream of freedom until the Civil Rights movement. Because of the basic principle of segregation, African Americans were seen as inferior, and that by itself builds upon the illusion of the “American dream. ” African American’s did not have the opportunity to prosper in society or have a chance to take on their individual desires.
Although the 1950’s may have provided a more family friendly economic and social environment, greater optimism existed, even among many individuals and groups who were in terrible circumstances. The post war economic boom gave way to the 1950’s where a majority of Americans could begin to dream of a new life without fear of societies constraints. However, for many this dream was not fully recognized due to negative views on race and class, which ultimately contributed to the hardships that many immigrants and minorities experienced.