The Postmodern Era: 

From WWII to the Present



American culture and society in the post-World War II era:


  • The era immediately following the war was incredibly positive and optimistic, at least on the surface.
  • There were undercurrents of fear, apprehension, and discontent, however:
    • Fear of nuclear war, which many thought was inevitable.
    • A sense of impending doom.
    • A sense that there is no longer any order or logic to life.
    • Tremendous pressures to conform, for men, women, minorities, children and young people.
    • The rise of the white-collar middle-class and the suburbs:
      • A more affluent, educated culture--as much as 50% of the population is college educated; workers are protected by strong unions.
      • A more mobile culture—the average family moves once every five years.
      • The shift in focus from the extended family to the nuclear family.
      • Redefinitions of family, community, work, wealth, success.
      • The emphasis on appearances (which often masked unpleasant realities).
      • The establishment of a “teen culture.”
      • The further establishment and extensive growth of popular, consumer culture.


This pressure-cooker of conformity explodes in the 1960s and 1970s:


  • Conflicts between conformity and individuality; tradition and innovation; stability and disruption.
  • Recognition of the diversity of America.
  • Questions of personal identity and experience, of how the personal and the social interact to form the individual.
  • A tendency to critique and question anything or anyone that sets themselves up as “right”, or as “the truth.”
  • Recognition of the subjectivity of all “truths” including political truth and moral truth.
  • Recognition of the extent to which rhetoric forms our concepts of “reality.”



Postmodern Literature and Art


In many ways, these decades witness a continuation of the trends and ideas of Modernism, but in reference and reaction to a society that is “progressing” at a much greater rate and in a multitude of ways:


  • A decentering of authority.
  • An eradication of traditional boundaries between high and low, art and entertainment.
  • A struggle against the anonymity that contemporary society accorded most people.
  • A focus on pointing out the rhetoric of society, the half-truths and untruths that people are convinced to believe.
  • A focus on the experience of the individual, of how the personal and the social come together to form identity.
  • A focus on the concept of “voice”—how, in this vast culture, does one establish any sense of individuality?  How does one find a meaningful way to express and explain oneself?  How do people achieve viable existence?