Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture

By Lawrence, John Shelton | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2006 | Go to article overview

Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture


Lawrence, John Shelton, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture Rachel Devm. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Appearing in the Gender and American Culture Series launched in 1988, Relative Intimacy appears on a par with other titles that have won notable awards. In this judgment I am biased by the book's clarification of one issue that has puzzled me for exactly 50 years. As a high school student, I saw the film Rebel Without a Cause (1955). While I found a kind of melodramatic credibility in Jim Stark (James Dean), his weepy girl friend Judy (Natalie Wood) seemed mysterious. The angry, erotically tinged relationship with her father (William Hopper) grew from a desire to titillate him sexually; he reciprocated with brutish violence that turned her to juvenile delinquency. In every subsequent viewing of Rebel, I wondered why such a rendition of daughter-father attraction/antagonism could be considered psychologically plausible for a mainstream feature film. Now the analysis from Rachel Devlm, an associate professor of history at Tulane, has left me gasping with new tremors of alienation from the reigning wisdom that she demonstrates for the popular therapeutic culture of my youth.

Devlin treats Rebel as just one of many artifacts in the history of postwar attempts to represent middle-class adolescent girls, understand their challenges, and prescribe cures for them. Placed in that context, the story of Judy and her father is meant to be an instructive female Oedipal drama that expresses insights for family therapy. Drawing upon numerous examples from films, plays, and widely read psychoanalytic tracts - Helene Deutsch's Psychology of Woman (1944) and Phyllis Greenacre's Trauma, Growth, and Personality (1952) among them-Devlin shows postwar therapeutic consensus that a teenage daughter's Oedipal attractions to her father are so urgently normal that they need to be ripened toward some kind of decisive resolution. (It was assumed that a male's Oedipal attachment to his mother died at puberty in a kind of benign molting.) Mom was the daughter's biggest emotional problem in this understanding. If girls were to become independent from mothers, they would have to decisively reject their influence. In this emancipation they would symbolically join Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) when he murders Mrs. Senator Iselin (Angela Lansbury) -absolutely the world's most viperous mom. While therapists of the Deutsch/Greenacre persuasion did not openly advocate physical incest, they squirmingly sanctioned it as a negligible evil preferable to continuing childish dependence on the mother or eruptions of acting out in promiscuity, drinking, and smoking. Affirmative Oedipal enactment with the father, in other words, was the way beyond the control of, in Lillian Gordon's words from that period, the "giantess of the nursery" (44).

So, returning to Rebel, we can recognize that both Jim and Judy's parents fail because of weak fathers-Jim's because he cannot assert himself against a domineering wife and Judy's because he fails to reciprocate her erotic impulses in ways that legitimize her developing sexual stature. The mothers are evil, too, but in a derivative way enabled by their husbands' inadequacies. Without Rachel Devlin's resourceful sleuthing in the popular postwar materials, I would never have understood Judy's motivation as the second rebel who really did have her cause.

The exegesis here is just one of many executed with fascinating sources and a rich collection of handsomely produced visual illustrations gathered from premier collections of American social history. Topics have been arranged into chapters that deal with coherent sets of cultural artifacts and all the sources of public understanding or taste linked to their production and consumption. Devlin ranges gracefully over government documents, juvenile court proceedings, professional journals, popular magazines, fiction, radio broadcasts, and stage plays. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.