When World War II ended in August 1945, Americans entered a period of readjustment. After decades of depression and war, the country had to cope with the emotional, physical, and economic wounds of war. As a sort of post-traumatic stress response to World War II, a political and social discourse centered on the return to “normal” swept through the American population. This idea of “normality” was a keyword in postwar American culture, to the point of near obsession. Anna Creadick’s Perfectly Average charts this pursuit of “normality” through scientific studies, literary texts, and mass media among other materials, and shows that “normal” was a standard Americans actively and impossibly pursued.
Perfectly Average focuses on the period between 1945 to 1963, when the United States struggled with the massive demobilization of troops, reintegration of veterans into the workforce, and massive reorganization of society’s ideals and values. In its analysis of the aftermath of World War II, In particular, it demonstrates the complexities and contradictions in this drive to “normality” in hopes to create uniformly average citizens. What exactly was “normality” in the postwar decades? Why did the population endlessly pursue these impossible ideals? What forces, political and otherwise, were at play in shaping the culture and behavior of the period? In Perfectly Average, Creadick analyzes the nationalistic undertones of “American exceptionalism” that infiltrated everything from postwar scholarship to middle class apparel. Normality went from being a concept to a system of organization for minds, bodies, sexualities, and communities.
A graduate of UMass Amherst, author Anna Creadick is currently an associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. For more information on her book or other volumes in the Culture, Politics, and Cold War series, please review our website page.
Emily Esten is an Editorial Intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst.