Goodbye, Columbus and gender roles in the 1950s

Gender role is an established set of community customs that dictates the kind of behavior that are acceptable or suitable for society based on how they believe in one’s sex or sexuality (Kaledin, 1984). Gender roles have taken a different angle in the 1950s. It was also an era of change. Therefore, many cultures and media facilitated the issue of messages regarding the role of women. But all this didn’t reflect the above. Therefore, the African American women encountered many challenges in the guest for postwar material, making many people ignore the roles of many women and families.  Even though, a lot of changes have taken place whereby there is nothing like common or generalized statement regarding the role of women and men in society.

In the year 1950, gender roles was mostly linked to the cold war, Majority of Americans wanted to form a violent free and wealthy society. Unfortunately, the majority did not agree with the status quo.  Despite that, women were expected to play minor roles as wife’s, homemakers, and mothers and avoid other jobs outside the home. However, in the same year there were gradual changes in the form of sexual conduct; but finally, it ended the “sexual revolution” in the 1960s. (Kaledin, 1984). Its evidence that the idea of family life was mainly focusing on the middle class white females as well as low level African American women. Both were not portrayed as wife’s or mothers. In addition, Majority of American women were being challenged by the economic needs, to go and work outside their home, and for that reason were not involved in war afterwards..

Therefore at the end of world war 11, there were a lot of changes. Lots of women who had joined the military force during the battle were being compelled to leave returning armies also the ones who were employed in the factories to take over the work of men. This is evidence with this kind of image “Rosie the Riveter” that was formed by J. Miller, with a common phrase “we can do it”, this illustration was a pure propaganda tool used by the American Government to motivate and recruit women in the job. Messages in well-known culture, mass media inspired these women to surrender their works silently to natural life. Despite that, Majority of women wanted to continue to work making up to around one- third of the army force. Still, in the 1950s, the issue of nuclear family arose; it was to facilitate the steadiness of the family, acting as a building block and stable society (Kaledin, 1984). Regarding this, women played a very critical role in participating in the cold war; they ensured the family is strong and together. This would only be possible if they remained at home to take care of their children and partner and not to pursue any career. Additionally, in tradition setting women were expected to do some shopping for the home, this enables them to be devoted to Americans by being the best consumers. Therefore, a lot was expected of women, to cook a meal and create a good environment for their men. Male were believed to be the provider to the families. Also, males were the leader and the one who went to fight for his families. Lastly, the men were being considered as the head of the house and therefore would oversee the entire financial obligation in the house, unlike women who were expected to be submissive to their husbands and remain to take care of her family. (Kaledin, E. 1984). The number of women joining college during the 1950s went down because the majority of women left the college to get married after the war. Despite that, they were being encouraged to pursue individual courses to prepare them for home in life, and such courses included interior decoration, and how to manage family finance and this would prepare them for the motherly role. Majority ended up applying for such courses irrespective of the society perception towards them. Women also played the role of mobilization during war. They would move around all the homes to encourage people to go on war, so as to protect the community against their enemies. At the same time they would prepare food, cook and serve their husbands who are fighting the enemies.

This novel called Goodbye Columbus; Women’s were not allowed to pursue a variety of roles in career, education, limited freedom and rights and much more. Roth’s using a female (Brenda) narrator and a male (Neil) narrator. Women are alleged to be object for sex. This is evident whereby everything sexual for Brenda (Female character) is an exchange for something else, not something she engages in for her desire. Neil is quoted saying “I tugged her towards me, too violently perhaps, and slid my hands across the side of her body and around to her back”. In addition to that, there is also the issue of sexual captivity from the societal expectations of female roles in society. There is no character involved in the relationship out of marriage. Or relationship that ends with the wedding, the relation between these two characters is as a result of male dominant towards his female counterparts. Indicating that women of a Brenda and Neils generation are trained to do men’s role within the relationship (Roth & Philip, 1960)

Also, women and men fit this role in Roth’s novel, whereby there is no opportunity for females as compared to men. Brenda as the woman lacks opportunity, freedom. This is evident whereby Neil is frustrated at Brenda, for not being more dismissive of her family despite her evident that she is not happy living with them, and he frustrated her in there fights. (Roth & Philip, 1960). Women also have a role of being submissive to their men, whereby Neil is not happy with Brenda because she does not want to do what she is told to do. Neil is quoted saying, ‘be realistic. After this, can I bring you home? Can you see us all sitting around the table?’ [Neil responds] ‘I can’t if you can’t, and I can if you can.’ Moreover, women are regarded as inferior being whereby the male believes they don’t have their rights. Finally, the issue of class also plays a crucial role whereby it affects the amount and quality of products women can access; they are left with jobs of organizing and preparing. An indication that women’s role is only in the kitchen and not allowed to pursue any other things, no opportunity to advance in life as compared to men, who are to inherit their parent’s property. It’s now evidence that in Roths Novel Goodbye, Columbus .is a good demonstration how women (women), is confined in her behavior. Neil is misunderstanding her through his view regarding women, and how these situations hinder her abilities and opportunities available. (Roth & Philip, 1960)

The mere thought of women in World War II often conjures up a popular mental image among Americans.  “Rosie the Riveter,” created by J. Howard Miller, is one of the common images associated with women during World War II. With her arm flexed and the phrase “We Can Do it!” emanating from her, this illustration was a perfect propaganda tool utilized by the U.S. Government to boost morale and recruit women into workforce. “Studies of postwar culture found that government propaganda, popular magazines, and films reinforced traditional concepts of femininity and instructed women to subordinate their interests to those of returning male veterans”

In conclusion, in today’s society the divisions of roles are starting to blur. Majority of people are adjusting to the non-traditional gender roles especial in marriage where people are sharing responsibilities. Therefore, in the current society men and women are both providers to their family. Majority of women are now getting into the workforce while some men are helping in house chores. Irrespective of all this, there is still a very big gap between the role of women and men, todays roles are less gendered and more the same as compared to the traditional way on how gender roles were.








Kaledin, E. (1984). Mothers and more: American women in the 1950s. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Roth, Philip. (1960). Goodbye, Columbus and five short stories. New York: Meridian Books.



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