Changing Family Responsibility and Divorce Rates after the Victorian Era in America
The end of the Victorian era ushered a change in the values and ethics of marriage and divorce in America. In Great Expectations: Marriage & Divorce in Post-Victorian America, Elaine Tyler May highlights these changes that are the cause for a staggering 2,000 percent increase in the divorce rate at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. She uses court records of divorce proceedings to find specific reasons for divorce.
Divorce cases in the East often differed from those of the West in their reasons for divorce and how much the spouses shared of their intimate lives. The rapidly changing society greatly changed reasons for marriage, twisted or often reversed gender roles, and caused people to bring higher expectations going into marriage.
To find reasons for such a tremendous explosion of divorces post-Victorianism, first the values and ethics of Victorianism must be examined. May does this with a close look on values of both eras.
First it is important to know who Victorians were. They were first-generation or descendants of largely Christian European immigrants. They valued sexual morality, family, church, and an organized, free society that they travelled across the Atlantic to find. They believed that a person must be brought up the right way and maintain self-control and discipline. “The Protestant ethic implied that self-disciplined individuals did not need legal intervention to regulate behavior” (May 54). It was up to family to teach an individual how to act, conduct social interactions, and even how to dress. Problems between married couples could be resolved without the intervention of the law. In fact society thought weak of a man who could not control his wife. But it was the wife who had to compromise to keep her husband faithful. In many, if not in all, aspects of society men were given the authority and power, thought to be.
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