Kindred ambivalence: art and the adult-child dynamic in America's Cold War

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University of Alabama Libraries

The pervasive ideological dimension of the Cold War resulted in an extremely ambivalent period in U.S. history, marked by complex and conflicting feelings. Nowhere is this ambivalence more clearly seen than in the American home and in the relationship between adults and children. Though the adult-child dynamic has frequently harbored ambivalent feelings, the American Cold War--with its increased emphasis on the family in the face of ideological struggle--served to highlight this ambivalence. Believing that art reveals historical and cultural concerns, this project explores the extent to which adult-child ambivalence is prominent within American art from the period--particularly, the coming-of-age story, as it is a genre intrinsically concerned with interactions between adults and children. Chapter one features an analysis of Katherine Anne Porter's "Old Order" coming-of-age sequence, specifically "The Source" and "The Circus." Establishing Porter's relevance to the Cold War period, this chapter illustrates how her young heroine (Miranda Gay) experiences ambivalence within her familial relationships--which, in turn, comes to foreshadow and represent the adult-child ambivalence within the Cold War period. Chapter two expands its scope to include a larger historical context and a different artistic mode. With the rise of cinema during the Cold War period, the horror film became a genre extremely interested in adult-child ambivalence, frequently depicting the child as a destructive force and the adult as a victim of parenthood. Attempting to identify models of ambivalence within these horror films, this chapter considers whether said models might provide readers with new ways of understanding classic coming-of-age texts.

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American literature, History, United States, American studies