Family, Drama, and American Dreams

Family, Drama, and American Dreams

Family, Drama, and American Dreams

Family, Drama, and American Dreams


American drama is chiefly a drama of realistic family plays and its conventions revolve around the antagonistic impulses of security and freedom. Scanlan asserts that America's best plays are plays of family life and that they re-enact dilemmas of personal psychology and family structure.


In the following study I am arguing that the family situation is the crucial subject of American drama. In our plays family life embodies an important dilemma, one which reflects the strains of a changing family structure. By looking at how the family is portrayed in American drama, perhaps we can discover a habit of mind, a pattern of values and ideology, which has larger implications. The image of family life, then, may be a revealing point at which social history and literature intersect.

The history of America coincides with the emergence of the modern family system. This fact is important to the study of American culture. It should not suggest that in America family life is unique; rather, the opposite, that in general terms it is part of western history. The American family experience seems to be a more extreme example, a purer case, so to speak, of the social forces at work in the western world. In America, we can see family response to these forces in a less qualified and less inhibited form.

My argument begins, then, with a discussion of American family patterns as modern in structure and function. William J. Goode has described the emergence of modern family life in the following way:

Wherever the economic system expands through industrialization, family patterns change. Extended kinship . . .

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