Why Did Some Americans Rebel Against Conformity in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, an American literary movement opposed civil injustice.
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The 1950s was a decade of affluence and prosperity for many Americans, however, some rebelled against the status quo because it alienated those who were less fortunate. Intellectuals, politicians, artists and teachers protested the inequalities and overriding materialistic themes that plagued America during the decade. A well-known artistic and literary movement, known as the beat generation, or beatniks, wrote inspirational books that denounced mainstream American culture. They lived simple, bohemian lifestyles and focused on sensory experiences, rather than staunch and stereotypical American values.

1 Racism and Segregation

Nonconformists detested the inequalities that existed between whites and minorities. African-American leaders didn't have many political opportunities to contest racism, and job applicants from minorities were often overlooked for employment. African-American schools didn't receive the same funding as white schools, and black children often went without sufficient academic resources. Latin Americans and those from Jewish, Italian or Asian descent often lived in poorer communities, and Native Americans often lived on remote reservations. Nonconformists despised the supremacy whites held as political leaders, employers and citizens, often resulting from their more affluent social status.

2 Poverty

Poverty was often a result of racism, segregation and inequality. Some Americans rebelled against the conformity of the 1950s because they despised the economic disparity between whites and minorities. For example, poverty rates for African Americans in the 1950s were double those of whites. Wealthier Americans enjoyed life in the suburbs and pursued materialistic goals while those in impoverished areas struggled to put food on the table. Nonconformists used media outlets, publications and campaigns to draw attention to social injustice and poverty. The civil rights movement was a byproduct of the rebellion against mainstream America.

3 Repressive Values

Groups, such as the beatniks, were part of the American subculture that revolted against the conservative norms and values of the 1950s. They used obscene poetry, vivacious jazz music and drugs to enhance their artistic and sensory perceptions and combat the stiff, traditional, inhibiting social rules that regulated mainstream society. The beat generation denounced prevailing attitudes toward sexuality and experimented with free love. Beatnik authors focused on free expression and personal feelings in their writings and encouraged readers to support anti-authoritarian values. For example, in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl," readers were encouraged to forsake materialism and conformity and unleash their human desires.

4 Unfavorable Stereotypes

Some Americans rebelled against the biased, male-dominated leadership that defined the decade. Nonconformists opposed the idea that businessmen, male politicians, husbands and fathers were the only successful contributors to society. Stereotypes in the 1950s showcased the self-seeking, complacent, materialistic attitudes of organization men and their submissive, dutiful housewives. Some Americans sought to dispel the myth that men had all the power and women shouldn't test or question gender roles.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.