The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, starts from the very simple discussions on the general myths and beliefs that we live with, in our society today, even with the changing generations with a much altered psychology of family values, the idea of an ideal family is very much similar to what it remained some five decades ago. The function of each person in the family is so embedded into that frame of ideal relation that it is still something that people long for, however with the much changing lifestyle the myth of attaining such ideal life remains unachievable.
From the above mentioned perspective Coontz try and produce the arguments to make us understand the “myth” of that, so much desired, “traditional family” of 1950s. Not only this, Coontz has produced the time based comparisons on other important aspects of life such as the idea of family privacy;; the so called sexual revolution, the development of gender roles; the dysfunctional black family and finally the current “crisis of the family”.
“State of the debate” was always there to give a start on topics like feminism, the underclass, daycare, teen pregnancy, television and family etc. but the outer picture is revealed later in detail; in this essay we will analyse whether Coontz has been successful in proving the fact that the idea of a “perfect” and “traditional” family is wrong an inexistent.
The “way things used to be” is somehow always represented with additional glamour, so that the audience gets filled with this belief that getting back to the old ways will help to achieve that perfection in family life. The change has taken place and everybody accepts this, it has been a gradual change and involves many factors that have shown a difference with time and have brought us to the way we live today but we somehow miss what we had in the past; now the question arises, was our past really perfect or do we just perceive it that way?
The way we never were is divided in to different chapters on the basis of the commonly known myths that prevail in our society. We see that Coontz has produced many arguments and examples to give a reply to all those myths, she says that “complexity of our history” is buried “under the weight of an idealized history” CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 . The best part is that the desire to get back, what was there in the past, never ends and as per her the “families have always been in crisis” how things were in the past. It is very clearly brought up by Coontz that problems were always there, and common issues like childcare, working women, poverty, child abuse, drug abuse, plight of minorities etc. has always been there and differently handled by each generation but we really cannot say that our past had solutions to those problems and we didn’t have.
It is important for the readers to understand that the discussion is talking about the picture of ideal white middle class family which means that it can never be agreed to represent the entire nation, as the 25% of people living below poverty line in those times are missed and secondly the minorities we not even there in the picture "minorities were almost entirely excluded from the gains and privileges accorded white middle class families." CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 ; if the above gets compared to the current situation then would not be placed on the better side. Thus, the ideal family of 1950 symbolizes the picture perfect socio-economic environment where nothing seems unhappy and which is more fictional than real. CITATION Coo92 \l 1033
Coontz is back with arguments on family structures later, but this time she highlights the African-American families and their progress with time. She believes that “despite these unique difficulties, the tremendous commitment of African Americans to family ties meant that the history of black family life was never as different from that of whites as some observers have claimed” CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 and she gives her view saying that these families “maintained tighter and more supportive kin ties than did other urban families” CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 , there is a very good use of history in the entire discussion based on families and Coontz has provided some great statistics and information on family values and relations going back about two centuries.
“The crisis of the family”, is discussed and very well supported by Coontz, she has successfully given the example of how our perception is deprived of that multi-perspective outlook and that "historically Americans have tended to discover crisis in family structure and standards whenever they are in the midst of major changes in socioeconomic structure and standards." CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 , there is one idea which is common between the entire discussion that Coontz had in her book and that was related to the relation between economic condition and family structures; it was proved and defended again and again that if the economic conditions are better the family structure and health would also be better, finally the theme was to produce a contrast of that 1950s ideal family image with the life that we are leading today and helping us to come out from the perception of “the way we never were”.
Nostalgia: How was it handled by the author?
It is a very common psychology that we try to achieve something that seems interesting or promising to us, without even trying to determine the ultimate outcome, Coontz is very close to present this idea and she clearly says that “families have always been in crisis; they have never lived up to the nostalgic notions about ‘the way things used to be” CITATION Coo92 \l 1033 , therefore it is very clear that the nostalgia is there to create that desire to go back and achieve what looks good as we look back into the history, however it does not provide the minute details of the conditions that prevailed in those times, on the contrary it gives a very rosy picture and hence adds negativity to life by encouraging the feeling of being unsuccessful to gain that “traditional” effect.
From an argument point of view, there are enough evidences available in this work to defend the idea that yes, the nostalgia created by the ideal picture of a family is hypothetical and does not coincide with the situations faced in today’s date. Moreover the picture of that ideal family of 1950s is very unreal istic and cannot be agreed upon to represent all the communities, cultures and races due to which the desire to achieve such a life also becomes unimportant, looking at the way we are we must learn from the past and improve. Finally, Coontz has been successful in making the reader come out of that nostalgia and look forward to today’s family structure with a positive outlook.
Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Perses Book Group, 1992.