Home At Last | Sojourners

Home At Last

"You can't go home again." So novelist Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, from New York, of his Asheville, North Carolina roots. That was the modernist myth of the 1920s, the myth of small-town innocence lost and urban sophistication gained. A generation acted it out in a haze of hung-over, dislocated angst. That generation saw the introduction of radio, movies, the automobile, and air travel. It also saw the collapse of Victorian social and sexual mores.

To most folks in the 1920s, it seemed that the old, small-town, rural America of centuries past was dead. And so were the religious and cultural values for which it stood (piety, fatalism, puritanism, centrality of kinship). Science and technology had killed them off. Some were glad, others mourned, but all agreed something had ended. Modern people now had to face the world alone, without the comforts of faith and tradition. In this new age, the cities were the center of action and the provinces were death.

"There's no place like home." That was the domestic myth of the 1950s. People tired of Depression and world wars re-created their small town havens in the suburbs. The federal government built big, wide freeways and people

found their patch of green at the end of them. Rural fatalism and superstition had no place here. This was the apex of human progress, and getting better every day. The piety and puritanism of traditional village life were occasionally invoked, but the notion of kinship shriveled from a village-sized network to a nuclear family consisting of an isolated, homebound mother, two or three children, and a father off making money at the other end of the freeway.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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