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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 42: The American People Face a New Century


Betty Friedan (1921 )

Friedan is the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963) and the founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which became the principal arm of the postwar feminist movement.

Born Betty Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois, Friedan graduated from Smith College in 1942 and studied psychology at the University of California. While raising her family, she worked as a writer for womens magazines like Redbook and Ladies Home Journal. A 1957 article for Ladies Home Journal about her Smith classmates gave her the idea for The Feminine Mystique, which she wrote during five years of work at the New York Public Library. The book was an instant success and eventually sold millions of copies.

NOW was founded in her Washington hotel room after a 1964 federal government-sponsored conference in which womens concerns were ignored. Friedan created the name National Organization for Women in order to include men. She later came under sharp attack from more militant feminists for not supporting their more radical ideas.

Quote: Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves?The time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women to become more complete. (The Feminine Mystique, 1963)

REFERENCES: Justine Blau, Betty Friedan (1990); Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique(1998).


James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)

James Baldwin was the black writer whose powerful fiction and nonfiction works expressed his personal vision of the world and helped awaken white America to the depths of the racial crisis.

Baldwin was born in Harlem and spent most of his early life there. His father was an authoritarian, often cruel, Fundamentalist preacher. Many of Baldwins more autobiographical works, including Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), the work that first gained him literary fame, reveal the difficulties of his childhood and relations with his father.

Baldwin spent much time abroad, especially in Paris, where he felt he could escape the racial restrictions of the United States. However, he always returned to what he felt was his home in America. His book The Fire Next Time (1963) caused great controversy when it was published because of its predictions of racial violence but was later considered prophetic of the crises of the 1960s.

Quote: The nation, the entire nation, has spent a hundred years avoiding the question of the place of the black man in it.Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself. (Nobody Knows My Name, 1961)

REFERENCE: David Leeming, James Baldwin: A Biography (1994).


Jackson Pollock (1912 - 1956)

Pollock was the most influential American artist of the immediate postwar era and is considered one of the great modern masters of painting.

The son of an unsuccessful Wyoming rancher, Pollock developed a deep love of nature while working summer jobs at the Grand Canyon.

In school Pollock was interested only in art and frequently got into academic and disciplinary difficulty. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton, the great American regionalist painter. Pollocks early nature paintings show Bentons influence but also reflect a tendency toward the abstraction that he later developed.

From 1935 to 1943 Pollock worked for the federal WPA Art Project. In the early 1940s he was influenced by Jungian therapy and the work of Picasso and André Breton. He made his breakthrough to abstract expressionism and later developed his techniques of dripping and splattering paint on the canvas to create complex special effects. Some of his works that originally sold for $600 were later bought for over $2 million.

Pollock seldom appeared in public and cultivated an image as a somewhat rough and mysterious character. He died in an auto accident in 1956.

Quote: When I am in my painting Im not aware of what Im doing.I have no fears of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.

REFERENCE: Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Jackson Pollock (1990).



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