Watch this Booktube video on short stories written in the 1950s and other bookish videos on my YouTube channel (click here).
The 1950s were a great time for short stories in America. Think about how much was going on:
- The Cold War
- Brown v. Board of Education
- Desegregation in schools
- Population boom (baby boomers)
- McCarthyism and the Hollywood Blacklist (continuing from the 1940s)
- Mass exodus to the suburbs
You can see a trend; it was a time of massive change; change with which many people were uncomfortable. And of course, the Cold War was a black cloud ready to obliterate everyone.
There seems to have been a fear of “otherness.”
It’s no surprise that some of the stories of the time exemplify a sense of unease. Here are three good examples, all of which are available to read free and on-demand (click the titles below to read them for free online):
“There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, 1950.
The setting: an automated house in the year 2026. Bradbury was remarkably forward-thinking; many of the house’s automations are ones we enjoy today, including Roombas and alarms throughout the day.
As the home moves through its day’s automations, we eventually make our way outside and see the silhouette of our missing family on the home’s wall, all frozen in time the moment the A-bomb reduced them instantly to ashes.
See what I meant about the Cold War causing cold dread? This was the reality people thought might happen.
Eventually, the house burns. Mankind and all of its advancements has fallen, and nature reclaims the land.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, 1953
I listened to this one after the Better Than Food booktuber reviewed it and provided a link to Flannery O’Conner herself reading it. Watch his video – he has great insight into the story and O’Connor as an author.
A family takes a road trip and has an accident. It’s the 50s, so cell phones aren’t a possibility, They must wait for help. It comes in the form of an escaped convict and his convict pals.
Bad stuff happens. Their family is doomed. They all die miserably ever after. Not your typical 50s white-picket-fences story, is it?
“The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, 1954
I read this one way way back in school. I hope it’s still included in at least a few lesson plans.
It’s set far in the future, where interplanetary travel is not uncommon. A planet is on the brink of ruin, so an astronaut is on his way with much-needed supplies.
There’s just enough fuel to get him there. So when the stowaway, a teenage girl desperate to visit her brother on the destination planet, comes out of her hiding place, the astronaut is faced with a dilemma.
Send the girl off the rocket and to her death, or kill himself, the girl, and the entire planet when the rocket runs out of fuel early and crashes, ruining all of the supplies he’s bringing.
Wow, bright bunch of stories I’ve brought you, huh? The end of humanity, the end of a family, and the end of innocence. Lovely.