Tiny Light: a web-serial

Published weekly on Saturdays.

About Tiny Light

Set in 1952, Tiny Light is the story of Helen Tierney, who leaves Norfolk, Virginia at eighteen for New York City and soon finds herself embroiled in a struggle between two lifelong friends, both of whom are in search of the American dream. A shocking discovery leaves Helen with a life-altering choice.

Historical information (for those interested)

The Red Scare and 1950s Culture

Tiny Light is set in New York City of 1952 near the height of the Red Scare — a time when, especially in large cities, many previously marginalized minority groups were gaining “white status” in society (at the expense of non-white groups such as African Americans, Asians, and Latinos). The fear that racial strife would lead to Communist revolt bore a strong influence on the government’s decision to extend white privilege to groups such as Italians, Poles, and Jews. During the 1950s, these groups, along with the old white middle and upper-middle classes, formed a strikingly homogeneous societal bloc that shared many of the same views, consumer habits, and family values, leading to suburban sprawl, the growth of consumerism, and the baby boom.

The Beat Generation

During the early 1950s, the work of Beat Generation poets, writers, and artists became popularized. The three most well-known pieces of Beat literature are Alan Ginsberg’s Howl, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which were all published later than 1952 (Wikipedia).

Beatniks, as members of the Beat Generation came to be known, had a reputation for non-conformity in a time of extreme conformity. In New York, Greenwich Village became a center of Beatnik activity. Young people across America emulated Beatnik culture, adopting pseudo-intellectual and counterculture characteristics.

Despite the liberation Beat culture could offer young men from the oppressive conformity of 1950s society, it was also marked by machismo and generally failed to benefit women in the same ways it benefited men. It is likely that the strong feminist wave of the 1960s had roots in both the successes and failures of the Beatnik movement.

Generational Differences and Societal Values

The characters in Tiny Light lived in a time where there were extreme differences from one generation to the next. Parents of children born in the forties had lived through the Great Depression, which had changed many American values and the way in which society and government worked. They (and their children) also lived through World War II, which was (quite literally) a world-shaping event that changed the face of American government and especially foreign policy, ushering in the decades long Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, societal values shifted towards conformity and domestic containment. In the face of the Red Scare, in which anyone who didn’t conform could be labeled a Communist, men and women rushed to marry and start families. Men worked white collar jobs in big corporations, and upper and middle class women stayed home when at all possible.

See the historical information in Chapter 5 for some cool 1930s/1950s fashion comparisons!

Sensitivity warning for Chapter 6 and ongoing: In Chapter 6, I use the word “Negro” to describe people who would now be described as black, African American, or Caribbean American. Although the word Negro is widely viewed as offensive now, this was not so in the early 1950s, during which my story is set. In fact, Negro was the term used by the majority of blacks to refer to themselves during this time. If you want more information on the topic and the changes in the way in which the black community referred to themselves at various times in the past, read this article, When Did the Word Negro Become Socially Unacceptable?.

Race Relations in the 1950s

The 1950s were a time of strained race relations in the United States, even more so (many would say) than the previous two decades. For one, the Great Migration of African Americans to northern industrial centers during WWII had brought them into close proximity with northern whites. Schools in the North were de facto segregated, while  schools in the South remained segregated under the law (de jure segregation) through Brown v. Board (1954), the integration of Central High in Little Rock (1957), and beyond. Southern states responded with extremely “deliberate” speed to the call to integrate. Similarly, the level of practical integration remained low in the north as well.

As such, blacks and whites in many parts of the country came into contact infrequently. From modern day standards, it’s easy to qualify nearly all white Americans of the 1950s as racists. However, it is important to remember that they lived in a very different time, and to think anything else is to discredit the real progress that was made during the Civil Rights Movement of the later 1950s and 1960s, and also to discredit the fact that we still have a long way to go.

The Beat movement was one arena in which whites and blacks often came into close contact. There were some interracial marriages between blacks and whites. To read about one (with a tragic end), check out How I Became Hettie Jones by Hettie Jones.

Links to Tiny Light installmentstinylight

Installments are also cross-posted here on Wattpad.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5 (plus some cool 1930s/1950s fashion comparisons)