Marriage is a social structure. When couples get married they enter into a relationship that is societally recognized and to some degree societally regulated. Laws, customs, traditions and cultural assumptions are intrinsically involved in defining the path that a marriage will take. In the late 19th century many Americans had to come to terms in some way with the societal expectations of marriage, guided by the Victorian mores. But as the 20th century began these elements began to evolve. As personal expectations became more important societal expectations lost prevalence.
The laws and regulations of the 1920's succeeded in making it more difficult to obtain a divorce. More conservative states in the East limited divorce to only two or three complaints, adultery or abandonment were the most common. But this red tape did not slow down the rapidly accelerating rate of divorce in the 1920's. Especially in the more liberal West was divorce becoming a more usual case. The state of California and the state of New Jersey were the center of May's Great Expectations.
California was settled by Victorians, many of who were European immigrants who moved to California from the mid-West. Other Victorians were native-born white Protestant Americans from the middle class. These men and women believed that independence and self denial would lead to progress. Most of these people were well to do merchants and professionals, who had economic autonomy. This Victorian culture encouraged domestic morality.
During this time there were clearly defined sex roles. The husband served as the sole provider and the wife took care of the home, children and volunteer work at the c...
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... with the lifestyle that their husband was providing for them. Some of these cases were granted to the men and other to the women. Women often desired a divorce from husband who tried to force them to go to work. These women felt that their husband was unwilling to simply provide for his family, most of these women were granted the divorces.
Elaine Tyler May did a great job of backing up all of these ideas with many cases from California and a few from New Jersey. This may assume that all California and New Jersey accurately represented America. Perhaps May should have instead sub-titled her book Marriage & Divorce in Post-Victorian California. I am sure that most of these same trends were spread all over the nation but there may have been other causes that May did not touch on.
Great Expectations, Elaine Tyler May
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