Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Meg  Wolitzer

Michaela  Finn 

Discrimination, Integration and the Life and Music of Johnny Cash

Meg Wolitzer: The Transition from Painful Adolescence into a Strong Identity

During the 1940s and 50s, integration was becoming a major movement in the United States both domestically and within the military. The armed forces recognized the need for equality in order to create an effective fighting force made up of soldiers of all races. Alongside the growing efforts for military integration, the music industry embodied a natural integration, as white musicians adopted musical styles born in black southern culture. Radio broadcasters such as Alan Freed and Hunter Hancock facilitated the artistic integration by ending discrimination between “race music” and white pop and by playing the new genre of rock and roll. This genre crossed over racial borders, and tuned in listeners who heard the new sound of rock and roll by Black artists Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were the leading white musicians in the new and improved genre of music. They expressed the perspective of those oppressed by discrimination, and brought that perspective to a broader American audience, ready for a new, integrated society.

Just as American music was changing in response to the changing social and political landscape of the United States, Meg Wolitzer’s protagonists transform in response to their own adolescent anguish and self-discovery. Wolitzer’s protagonists gradually become aware of their true emotions and face the difficult yet inevitable fact that they must settle into the reality of their adult lives and move on from their childhoods. In The Interestings, main character Juls’ journey embodies the difficulty of moving on from the past. As Juls dwells on her memories from her adolescence spent at summer camp, she fails to successfully transition into the adult world. Because she cannot accept that the past is in the past, she lets the new, remarkable moments of life pass her by instead of taking full advantage of them. When she realizes this, Juls finally forces herself to move on from those memories instead of remaining paralyzed in the past. From the darkness of her pain comes light, and the light that comes from her pain is her new identity.

Major Works Consulted:

Campbell, Garth. Johnny Cash: He Walked the Line. London: John Blake, 2003.
Wolitzer, Meg. Belzhar. New York: Penguin, 2014.
---. The Interestings. New York: Penguin, 2013.
Wynn, Neil A. The African American Experience during World War II. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield: 2010.
Photo Credit: Zimmerman, Greg. Meg-Wolitzer. 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.