On Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the need for belongingness and love ranks only below the need for survival, making it one of our most basic needs (Weiten 267). Many people fill this need for affection by participating in a family unit. However, as the 20th century continues, the emphasis on family in America is decreasing. Divorce rates, single-parent households, and children born out of wedlock are all increasing. Furthermore, instead of the network of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other relatives that was prevalent in early America, Americans today are more distant from their extended family. As sociologist David Elkind said in a 1996 interview with Educational Leadership, "Instead of togetherness, we have a new focus on autonomy. The individual becomes more important than the family" (4). This means that one of the basic needs of humanity, belongingness and love, is very likely going unfilled in many people.
As the traditional nuclear family declines, however, untraditional, non-nuclear families have risen. According to Dr. Mary Pipher: "In the 1990s a family can be a lesbian couple and their children from previous marriages, a fourteen-year-old and her baby in a city apartment, a gay man and his son, two adults recently married and their teenagers from other relationships, a grandmother with twin toddlers of a daughter who died of AIDS, a foster mother and a crack baby, a multigenerational family from an Asian culture, or unrelated people who are together because they love each other (80)." Even the Internet has become a source of family, with lonely people reaching out through news groups and mailing lists to people like them that they woul...
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...d R. ed. The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in Criticism. Troy, New York, 1993. Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Reed, Peter J. and Marc Leeds eds. The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996. Steinbeck, John. A Life in Letters. New York: Penguin Books, 1969. Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1930. Swerdlow, Amy, et al. Families in Flux. New York: The Feminist Press,1989. Timmerman, John H. John Steinbeck's Fiction: The Aesthetics of the Road Taken. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slapstick. New York: Dell Publishing, 1976. Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations, Third Edition. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1997. Wyatt, David ed. New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
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