Free Flapper Jane by Bruce Bliven Essay Sample

World War I was over. America had decided that it was time to enjoy life, even though prohibition might make that a bit more difficult; cars were present everywhere; leisure activities included dancing the Charleston and drinking at a “speak-easy;” young people believed that life could not get much better; tolerance for a new “wilder” lifestyle and an easing of social and moral standards was evident. Young women in particular reflected the new, non-traditional lifestyle and demonstrated their new-found freedom and independence in many ways – in dress, in activities, in employment, and in their approaches to marriage and family.

Blevin’s “Flapper Jane” is the typical young female adult of the “Roaring Twenties.” Her signature clothing is revealing; her short haircut and her makeup are far different from her mother’s.  All of this new “style” is a reflection, moreover, of her sense of independence and freedom from the second-class citizenry of previous female generations. As she states, “Women have come down off the pedestal lately…Maybe it goes with independence, earning your own living and voting and all that” and “…not so many girls are looking for a mealticket nowadays. Lots of them prefer to earn their own living and omit the home-and-baby act.” Blevin goes on to say that women will continue to assert themselves and that “feminism” is here to stay. His final “Hurrah” indicates that he is pleased.

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Document 2:  H.L. Mencken on the Boobus Americanus, 1921

H. L. Mencken was the libertarian of the 1920’s. He speaks of the Constitution as a document that guarantees freedom to individuals and assumes that the common man is intelligent enough to make decisions for him/herself about his basic activities, about his personal finances, and about his moral beliefs and values. The essence of the Constitution, in fact, is that the government should not and must not intrude into the personal lives of its citizens.  Unfortunately, he continues, there is a group of lawmakers (Congress) that has come to believe that the common man is stupid and that those who are in a position to make laws must impose strict regulations upon the common man for his own good. Evidently, the looser lifestyles during the Twenties prompted reactions from more fundamentalist lawmakers.

The theoretical basis for the continued growth of confining laws and regulations is that, if these rules are not put in place, and the average man is left to his own devices, then his decisions and choices will be poor ones, and that he will fall into a life of immorality, drunkenness, and non-productivity, destroying himself and his family. These more intelligent law-makers must therefore regulate what Americans read, their drinking behaviors, and how they must raise their children.  According to Mencken, the powerful truly believe they are “…highly skilled at training him (the Boobus Americanus) in the way that he should think and act.” Given some of the discussion in the current election season, and recent laws passed in some states, it appears that this issue continues to thrive in America, as conservative candidates support strict legislation regarding ethical and social behaviors.

Document 3:  William Jennings Bryan on the Subject of Evolution/Bryan’s Summation

The 1920’s was clearly a decade of contrasts. While many pursued secular and materialistic lifestyles, shocked and angry fundamentalists worked to pass laws that would return America to its religious and moral roots. William Jennings Bryan was one such fundamentalist and a national figure, having even run for President.  In his pamphlet, “The Menace of Darwinism,” he urged state legislatures to pass laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in their public schools and universities. His arguments stemmed from both his personal religious beliefs and from the Constitutional amendment requiring separation of church and state. Bryan had the opportunity to defend his position in court, as he became the lead member of the prosecution team in the Scope’s trial in Tennessee, in 1925. Tennessee had a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in its public schools, and teacher Scopes defied that law, facing trial for his actions. The trial became nationally famous, as many saw it as part of the larger conflict between fundamental Christianity and science.

According to Bryan, the science of evolution was nothing more than a guess, and its proponents were either atheists or agnostics. Therefore, to teach evolution in a public school, supported by taxes, was to teach a specific religious belief, a practice that was unconstitutional.  He further stated that, although some evolutionists claimed to reconcile the Bible with Darwinism, they were still teaching a specific interpretation of that Book and thereby teaching the tenets of a specific religious sect. Such teaching would destroy students’ religious beliefs and the moral compass established by Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Bryan insisted that the Bible was truth and that the science of evolution was mere theory, a position that made him wildly popular among religious fundamentalists. While illness prevented Bryan from making his final summation, it has been published by a UMKC law School website. Bryan insists that America is a Christian nation, founded on the basics of the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. To allow the atheistic doctrine of evolution to be taught in public schools is to deny that Christianity and to destroy the moral and spiritual of Jesus’s teachings. Indeed, “A bloody, brutal doctrine – Evolution – demands, as the rabble did nineteen hundred year ago, that He be crucified.” With this second “crucifixion” of Jesus, he states, children will lose their moral compasses, and the reliance on intelligence and science, rather than the teachings of Jesus, will ultimately destroy us. He urges the jury to uphold the Tennessee law and, in so doing, be called “blessed” by millions of grateful Christians. This argument that science and Christianity are irreconcilable is a timeless one in America. As this nation becomes more diverse and as science marches forward, the fundamental Christian finds himself in an increasingly difficult position – denial that any other religion can hold truth and denial of scientific fact.

Document 4:  “Impact of the Depression on Men’s Self-Esteem,” from Komarovsky, Mirra, The Unemployed Man and His Family (New York, 1940)

Komarovsky summarizes the emotional toll that unemployment has on men, through the interview of Mr. and Mrs. Patterson, victims of the high unemployment during the Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted until America’s entrance into World War II. “The hardest thing about unemployment, Mr. Patterson says, is the humiliation within the family.” (Paragraph 2)  Having been employed steadily as an inventory clerk, Mr. Patterson lost his job in 1931 and has been unable to find work since then.  He and his wife both attribute his plight to lack of education, but that cannot now be rectified.  Mrs. Patterson and their daughter have both found employment, and this income has allowed the family live in relative comfort.  For Mr. Patterson, however, the emotional impact has been severe, and this has changed the family dynamic in unfortunate ways. Mr. Patterson feels useless and suffers from depression.  His wife and daughter, however, have adjusted quite well and, in fact, seem cheerful most of the time. He hates that he has to “beg” money from his daughter for minimal purchases, such as tobacco; he wonders if they would be better without him around; he does not eat or sleep well and sees no purpose for getting up in the morning. His wife and daughter, however, enjoy life and often go out together in the evenings, leaving him at home to his own negative thought.  Patterson admits that their intimacy has declined significantly and believes that his wife sees him as worthless too.

The condition of Mr. Patterson’s emotional decline is the result of traditional family values of the times. In short, the husband and father is to be the “bread winner,” while the wife maintains a housekeeping role and the children attend school and enjoy play and leisure. The inability to provide for his family means that Patterson is not fulfilling his appropriate role, and this is cause for low self-esteem. And that low self-esteem permeates the relationships among all three family members. High unemployment is also a contemporary condition, but it does not impact the roles of family members today as it did during the Depression.  Unemployment now crosses genders, and, while unemployment is emotionally harmful, it does not bear the stigma for a man that it once did.

Document 5:  “Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as President in 1932, following three Republican presidents that had allowed capitalists, bankers and Wall Street to “run amuck” with unethical and destructive practices. The result of those practices was the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, a time of horrific unemployment and destruction of personal financial well-being for at least one-third of American adults. Life savings were lost; homes were foreclosed; farmers lost their land; and factories shut down all over the country. It was necessary for Roosevelt, during his inaugural address, to put forth a vision of what was to be done, in order to re-build national and individual financial stability across the country.

Roosevelt’s most famous line from this speech was, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…,” as he calls upon Americans to support the nation’s new leadership. He then places blame on the unregulated practices of bankers, businesses, and Wall Street, motivated only by greed, taking advantage of their total freedoms at the expense of the entire nation. He indicates that he will institute strict regulations so that this may never occur again. As well, he speaks to the necessity for the government to become a massive employer, through a series of public projects. Roosevelt warns Congress, moreover, that should it fail to approve his programs, he will take strong executive powers to implement them for the good of the entire nation.  Barack Obama has found himself in much the same situation. Having inherited an economic crash and deep recession, caused by many of the same practices as those of the 1920’s, he has called upon Congress to act, and Congress has not been as cooperative as it was for Roosevelt.  The issues facing both men have been the same – the power of the federal government to regulate banking and business and the controversy over increasing a federal deficit for the public good. Such issues never truly go away.

Document 6:  “More Important than Gold”: FDR’s First Fireside Chat

One of the first crises facing Roosevelt when he took office in 1932 was the failure of banks.  These failures were the result of two factors – some banks simply had so many bad loans out that they were completely insolvent, and the government closed them; others suffered from “runs,” that is, depositors coming in mass to withdraw their money. In the latter case, banks simply did not have enough cash on hand to meet depositors’ demands. The single solution for both governors and the President was to declare “bank holidays,” essentially closing banks until they could be made solvent or, in the case of irreparable insolvency, close their doors permanently. In an attempt to speak directly to the people regarding the issues of the Depression, Roosevelt began his “Fireside Chats,” which were regularly scheduled radio broadcasts.  His first broadcast dealt with the bank holidays.

Roosevelt correctly believed that the average American did not understand the banking system, and so it fell to him to first provide a basic education about that system in America and to explain why they all could not simply go to their banks and expect their money to be immediately available.  Those who arrived first, of course, got their money, and Roosevelt chastised them a bit for their “hoarding.” It was his more important goal, however, to explain the temporary nature of these holidays and the purpose for which they were implemented. He needed to reassure Americans that the governments, both state and federal, would be certain to provide loans to banks that were basically solvent, and that this would be accomplished in an orderly manner.  Ultimately, he promised, people would have access to their money.  His second goal was to persuade Americans to keep their money in these solvent banks, because it would be safe. In the end, he stated, the most important element in repairing the financial system was…”the confidence of the people themselves.  Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan.” Recently, Americans witnessed another “meltdown” of their financial system, and, indeed, many banks have been closed due to insolvency.  The difference now, however, is that the FDIC, instituted during Roosevelt’s presidency, insures an individual deposit against bank failure.  This helps to create confidence in banks and to ensure that “runs” will not occur again.  

Document 7:  FDR’s Second Bill of Rights:  Excerpts from State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944

Though World War II continued, Roosevelt was optimistic that it would soon end with an Allied victory.  His State of the Union message focused, then, on the post-war America he envisioned, specifically, one in which everyone was fed, housed, clothed, and provided access to education and health care. Roosevelt thus proposed a “second bill of rights,” which would provide a “…new basis for security and prosperity.” He believed, in fact, that none of the basic constitutional freedoms could be enjoyed by anyone who was hungry or unemployed, and it should therefore become the role of government to ensure that this additional bill of rights was bestowed upon every American. Among these rights were a job that paid adequately for basic necessities, the rights of farmers and businessmen to sell their products for a decent profit, the right to a home, health care, security in one’s old age, and an education.

To Roosevelt, security for Americans meant peace and greatness as a nation, but his belief that it was a government’s duty to care for its entire people was rather radical for the time. Conservatives certainly disagreed, and they opposed Social Security, minimum wage, and other such legislation as “socialist.” This ideological fight about the role of government continues today, and the specifics have not changed. Roosevelt did not want to return to the great inequalities of the 1920’s; his opponents did.  Progressives today want government to “level the playing field” for all; conservatives insist that only the “fit” should play on the field.

Document 8:  FDR’s Address at Roanoke Island, NC, August 18, 1937

Since the founding of the nation, there has been an ongoing argument regarding the nature of American democracy.  Educated and wealthy conservatives have often professed that governmental leaders should come from their population, for they had the required intelligence and were best suited to provide for protection of individually-owned property and assets.  Progressives, or proponents of rule by the majority, have believed that the common man has the right to demand that the welfare and needs of all Americans be the purpose of government and that democracy should be based upon full equality of voice and leadership.  Roosevelt addressed this controversy in an address at Roanoke Island, N.C. and confirmed his long-held belief that American democracy began, and continues to be, based upon the promotion of welfare and success for all, not for simply the privileged. As he firmly stated, “…we cannot go along with the Tory insistence that salvation lies in the vesting of power in the hands of a select class”, because “They seek to substitute their own will for that of the majority, for they would serve their own interest above the general welfare.” 

In light of the events that led to the financial meltdown of 2008, it appears that the “privileged” were in control of this nation for many years and sought only “their own interest above the general welfare.” Given recent Supreme Court decisions, moreover, it also appears that the wealthy 1% can now control the entire election process, purely through the power that wealth has given them.  Progressives, in their opposition to this new Tory attempt to control, must rally the common man once again, so that American democracy returns to the original pioneering roots of true majority rule.


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