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April 4, 2015

“The Easter Parade”

by Anne Paddock

I say,….Straight ahead. No Looking back; no looking sideways – ….Straight ahead.

When our nation celebrated it’s bicentennial nearly 40 years ago in 1976, the country was in the midst of a major shift in gender rights. Although the feminist movement began to gain momentum in the 1970’s and the United Nations had just declared the decade 1976 – 1985 as the UN Decade for Women, the reality was that women were still unable to break through the glass ceiling in certain fields and only earned 62% of what men earned making them either dependent upon men or limited economically.

The_Easter_ParadeIn 1976, Richard Yates also published The Easter Parade, a fictional story of two sisters who were born in the 1920’s, grew up in a home marked by divorce (during a time when very few marriages ended in divorce) and came of age in the 1940’s when most women were expected to marry young, have families and stay home to raise them. The book follows the lives of the two sisters, Sarah and Emily from childhood to middle-age over a 45 year period from 1930 – 1975.

Sarah, the eldest is conventional and predictable settling into an unhappy marriage with Tony, while Emily is independent but unsure of herself, always settling for less than what she deserves as she churns through men who are unattainable.

Both women struggle to adapt to the limitations placed on them while showing the world a happy face because what mattered was how things looked to the outside world – not what was really going on inside. Life was supposed to be like an Easter parade where people dressed in their Sunday best smiled and waved on their way to the great egg hunt. The problem, of course is that Easter is but one day. There are 364 other days in the year when the problems of day-to-day life can be overwhelming and the facade impossible to maintain.

Frustrated but unable to break through the cultural boundaries placed on them, Sarah and Emily seem to accept life on its terms. They respond to what happens but don’t ever see a way out which was characteristic of the times and a recipe for unhappiness.

Similar in many ways to Revolutionary Road, which was published 15 years earlier in 1961 by the same author, The Easter Parade is the story of two women who took very different roads during a time when conformity was emphasized with gender roles clearly defined. Both blindly clung to what they thought was safe and secure and took what was offered to them instead of finding a way out.

Emily and Pookie watched from the windows as the open car rolled past on its way uptown – Tony turning briefly from the wheel to smile at them, Sarah holding her hat in place with one hand and waving with the other – and then they were gone.

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