American Culture in the 1940s

American Culture in the 1940s

American Culture in the 1940s

American Culture in the 1940s

Synopsis

This book explores the major cultural forms of 1940s America - fiction and non-fiction; music and radio; film and theatre; serious and popular visual arts - and key texts, trends and figures, from Native Son to Citizen Kane, from Hiroshima to HUAC, and from Dr Seuss to Bob Hope. After discussing the dominant ideas that inform the 1940s the book culminates with a chapter on the 'culture of war'. Rather than splitting the decade at 1945, Jacqueline Foertsch argues persuasively that the 1940s should be taken as a whole, seeking out links between wartime and postwar American culture. Key Features:
• Focused case studies featuring key texts, genres, writers, artists and cultural trends
• Detailed chronology of 1940s American culture
• Bibliographies for each chapter
• 20 black and white illustrations

Excerpt

For the United States, as for the world, the 1940s may be said to have begun on 1 September 1939, when Hitler crossed the eastern border of Germany and invaded Poland, violating a non-aggression pact made between the two nations five years earlier. This act triggered an armed conflict that would eventually involve not only all of Europe but the United States and most nations of the world until its cataclysmic conclusion – the United States’s atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945. While historians read the bomb as a decisive break by which the two halves of this decade must be viewed as separate entities (‘hot’ war versus cold war, the Soviets as first western ally then arch enemy), in fact the bomb did as much to ensure continuity – of a dangerously armed ideological conflict, of a universally held siege mentality – as it did to separate the early and late 1940s. Popular editor and essayist Norman Cousins observed, just as the war ended, that ‘victory has given us no real “respite”… but has created instead an emergency’ as intense as ‘Dunkirk or Stalingrad or Pearl Harbor’. Out of victors’ quarrels over division of spoils in the immediate postwar period came the alliances and oppositions that would constitute the cold war enshadowing most of the second half of the twentieth century. The momentous events of the mid-1940s are thus pivotal in multiple respects, dividing as they join early and later parts of a decade and a century.

While it is as futile as it is dishonest to attempt to interpret the chaos of human history in discrete ten-year periods (much less in arbitrary but insistent ‘decades’ beginning with year ‘0’ and ending with year ‘9’), it has nevertheless proven helpful, and even essential, to the enterprises of personal and collective memory to do exactly that. Often, events themselves seem almost compliant in the scheme – the stock market crash of 1929, the Korean War of 1950, the World Trade Center . . .

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