Reexamination of Traditional Society

fishing protest 1978
The 1960’s and 1970’s were a time of radical movements brought upon by various groups who were tired of being oppressed because of the current ideology of America. The groups were mainly minorities who had no voice in the government and could only be heard after years of struggles. The Native Americans were one set of individuals that had their entire lives disrupted because of the Americans. They were forgotten about when the U.S. no longer saw them as a threat and were forced to integrate into American’s way of life, slowly giving up whatever culture they had left had. A Hopi Indian named Sun Chief said
“I had learned many English words and could recite part of the Ten Commandments. I knew how to sleep on a bed, pray to Jesus, comb my hair, eat with a knife and fork, and use a toilet. … I had also learned that a person thinks with his head instead of his heart.”
However, even though many were forced to live the American’s way of life, the Natives never forgot their own heritage. They were constantly reminded of how Americans took away everything and violated as Americans went back on promises they made. “The United States government had signed more than 400 treaties with Indians and violated every single one. ” In 1968, fishing rights that had once been granted to the Natives, were taken away because Americans wanted it exclusively. The Indians staged protests to get their voices heard but the government paid no attention. It wasn’t until many fights and protests later that the two groups finally reached an agreement. Zinn includes this particular group because they represent a continuous struggle of a population that did not give up. Over the course of hundreds of years, the Natives did not forgot their own culture and succumb to their new environment. Their movement contributed to the changing of traditional America because it forced people to acknowledge Native Americans as part of their society while allowing them to still keep their own traditions.

The movement for “unquestioned ways of living” was important for everyone who was considered to be different from the standards American society had set. This movement was brought on by new generations who were opening up to a new way of progressive thinking unlike the older generations that had been strictly conditioned on what to think. For example, “Homosexuality was no longer concealed. “Gay” men and “gay” women- lesbians-organized to combat discrimination against them, to give themselves a sense of community, to overcome shame and isolation.” The LGBT group was acknowledged and for the first time, they weren’t thought to be mentally ill. Books of a sexual nature, once forbidden, became available and slowly movies started including sexual scenes. There was no longer such rigid distinction between sexes as women were not confined at home. They were able to get jobs and wear pants while men didn’t have so much pressure to appear so manly all the time. Media and the arts was a huge catalyst behind the changes. “Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, [sang] not only protest songs, but songs reflecting the new abandon, the new culture, became popular idols.” With this kind of reinforcement, the new ideology was accepted and people were freer to be who they were. In return they were able to be more open to who others were too, even if they weren’t the same race, class, gender, etc. Without these progressive changes, America wouldn’t be the country it is today but the struggle for equality is still a never ending battle.

Collapse of the American Dream

Cathy Whitaker is a prime example of a housewife during the 1950’s for she embodies all the characteristics of a loving mother and doting wife, the roles in which she is expected to play by society. This image that she had portray thanks to the ideals during that time, is what kept her from living a fulfilling life, free of oppression. Cathy was living the American dream with her successful husband and kids in a beautiful home located in the suburbs. However, with Cathy and Frank’s marriage falling apart because of Frank’s realization of his attraction to men and Cathy’s growing feelings for Raymond Deagan, the black gardener, the dream quickly collapses. Because homosexuality and interracial relationships were seen as a horrible crime, Frank, Cathy and Raymond are forced to sneak around in their pursuit for happiness. Unfortunately, people in town begin to gossip about the nature of Cathy and Raymond’s relationship leading them to alienation from the townspeople and the downfall of everything they worked so hard to achieve.

The ending scene of Far From Heaven when Cathy drives away with her kids from the railroad stations shows how in the end, Cathy suffered the most, still trapped in her life with no way of escaping. With a divorce from Cathy, Frank would be free to pursue his authentic way of living but Cathy would be obligated to stay and take care of the children since she was their mother and it was considered to be her duty. Raymond had the ability to move with his daughter and start anew because he was capable of finding work to support him and his daughter. Cathy however, has no savings, no job, no education, no husband and no way to support her family. With hardships that she is bound to face, she can’t pursue a fulfilling life due to the limits that have been imposed upon her thanks to the ideals of the 1950’s.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Another Failed Insurrection

“Liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted. […] Thus, while the ending of slavery led to a reconstruction of national politics and economics, it was not a radical reconstruction, but a safe one- in fact, a profitable one.”

Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the largest slave insurrections to occur in which at least sixty white southerners were killed. This uprising threw southerners into a frenzy, as it was sudden and for the first time in Southampton, Virginia, whites, including women and children were at the mercy of the vengeful slaves. The militia was immediately dispatched, the rebellion quickly came to an end and those believed to be involved were hanged. The fear of slave uprisings soon turned to anger as white mobs attacked all blacks and any kind of freedom slaves had were taken away with the tightening of security and imposition of new restrictions.

These rebellions couldn’t go far because of the lack of participants, weapons and organization. The only way a rebellion could be successful was if the government aided the slaves, which essentially meant the government would be in control. Anytime slaves were allowed any kind of rights, it was because of those in power. Decisions were made based upon whether it would be lead to a profitable outcome for those at the top, instead of whether it was the right thing to do. Zinn mentions this rebellion because it further reinforces the point that revolting against slavery would always fail as long as the government was not behind it. The only way the government would support the abolition of slavery and rights for blacks was if they had something to gain from it and if an insurrection occurred in which they had no control over, they made sure to shut it down with excessive force, like they did with Turner’s rebellion.