"Visions of Belonging" explores how beloved and still-remembered
family stories -- "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I Remember Mama,
Gentleman's Agreement, Death of a Salesman, Marty, " and "A Raisin
in the Sun" -- entered the popular imagination and shaped
collective dreams in the postwar years and into the 1950s. These
stories helped define widely shared conceptions of who counted as
representative Americans and who could be recognized as
The book listens in as white and black authors and directors,
readers and viewers reveal divergent, emotionally textured, and
politically charged social visions. Their diverse perspectives
provide a point of entry into an extraordinary time when the
possibilities for social transformation seemed boundless. But
changes were also fiercely contested, especially as the war's
culture of unity receded in the resurgence of cold war
anticommunism, and demands for racial equality were met with
intensifying white resistance. Judith E. Smith traces the cultural
trajectory of these family stories, as they circulated widely in
bestselling paperbacks, hit movies, and popular drama on stage,
radio, and television.
"Visions of Belonging" provides unusually close access to a
vibrant conversation among white and black Americans about the
boundaries between public life and family matters and the meanings
of race and ethnicity. Would the new appearance of white working
class ethnic characters expand Americans'understanding of
democracy? Would these stories challenge the color line? How could
these stories simultaneously show that black families belonged to
the larger "family" of the nation while also representing the forms
of danger and discriminations that excluded them from full
citizenship? In the 1940s, war-driven challenges to racial and
ethnic borderlines encouraged hesitant trespass against older
notions of "normal." But by the end of the 1950s, the cold war
cultural atmosphere discouraged probing of racial and social
inequality and ultimately turned family stories into a comforting
retreat from politics.
The book crosses disciplinary boundaries, suggesting a novel
method for cultural history by probing the social history of
literary, dramatic, and cinematic texts. Smith's innovative use of
archival research sets authorial intent next to audience reception
to show how both contribute to shaping the contested meanings of
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