PRIVATE LIVES: Men and Women of the Fifties by Benita Eisler

PRIVATE LIVES: Men and Women of the Fifties

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Yet again, once over heavily on the myths and realities of the ""togetherness"" generation: the men and women of the 1950's who were supposed to find complete fulfillment in marriage, children, and an appliance-filled suburban home bolstered by the husband's secure job. This generation, as Eisler repeatedly points out, was a watershed in American culture: it ""married younger and had children younger than ever before in American history""; it ""achieved upward mobility on a scale unprecedented in any industrial society""; it was the last ""to place any value on female virginity""; and ""it expected to live the way (its) parents lived, only to be cast out into uncharted terrain, with neither compass nor maps."" These and other sweeping observations are strewn about as Eider sporadically relates the lives of 16 men and women who, she ventures, typify the generation that entered college in the 50's and who, one way or the other, came to realize that life is not a Norman Rockwell magazine cover. Most of the 16 people featured in this book followed in their parents' footsteps: they married, had children, the wife was a homemaker, the husband had a ""safe,"" upwardly mobile job. In the 60's, their insular world shifted and cracked open. Virtually all of them realized that they had been role-playing and discovered they were ""closet individualists."" The wives stopped ""making nice"" to males, ""at home, at work and in bed."" The Pill released women from ""the confines of the conjugal bed""; and they adopted the sexual revolution ""with ease and enthusiasm."" All of the men and women--whether radicalized or not--became quite different from the people they had been in the previous decade. One ex-wife became a lesbian. On the whole, however, the majority of the marriages survived, sometimes with the help of that late-50's invention, the marriage counselor. Actually, says Eisler, divorce among couples of the 50's is proportionally lower than in any generation since 1870, making them ""a plateau of stability in a century whose divorce rates are still climbing. ""Like Betty Furness opening her refrigerator, much of this comes across as old hat. The 16 men and women whose stories make up much of the text may, however, provide some unexpected insights for their generation--and some laughs for their grown-up children.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Franklin Watts