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Contemporary family drama since World War II: Diverse visions, forms, and attitudes

Beth C Rips, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The family has been a major focus of dramatists since ancient Greek times. Contemporary playwrights, in addition to lyricists working in musical theater, have closely observed the family in its many permutations, from the traditional to the post-modern. The plays in this study have been chosen thematically, not because they portray an idealized, Father Knows Best vision of family life, but because they observe the major changes in twentieth-century family life without romanticizing them. Though they do not mirror life photographically, these plays and musicals reflect an increasingly liberalized attitude toward the family, which is consistent with societal trends toward new and alternative family forms. Though the musical presents an often entertaining view of family life, nevertheless, it is a viable way of communicating the serious issues of marriage and family life to a mass audience. ^ This survey of contemporary plays and musicals is an investigation of family drama which refracts current trends in historical and sociological research on the family. Isolation, which is the result of the nuclear family's separation from the workplace and community, is one of the major changes in family life since World War II. The quest for personal happiness is a theme which also pervades this study. Many of the characters studied—from children, to adolescents, young adults, and married couples, search for fulfillment because of inflexible role expectations within families and/or communities, which is often a cause for conflict. Marriage, as is demonstrated in several examples, is often met with unrealistically high expectations of romance. The search for intimacy in marriage is often the result of an imbalance of power and the failure of romantic love as a stabilizing force. Extreme disappointment in marriage, accompanied by wives' sacrifices of their own interests and passions, can result in alcoholism, drug dependency, and extreme loneliness. The collective and alternative family forms observed are comprised of relatives or non-relatives and promise support and encouragement. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Music|Theater

Recommended Citation

Rips, Beth C, "Contemporary family drama since World War II: Diverse visions, forms, and attitudes" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3092587.