Mother and father to Josie and Jinny Magrane, the couple had raised their twin daughters with all the Christian values they had themselves, Harris also having served his country during World War II on the blood-stained battlefields of the Pacific.
From the very beginning, Leah and Harris were to be a part of the story as they were the main part of how Jinny ended up in the ruined life she leads after falling accidentally pregnant with Simon Hanson.
Essentially, the two characters I wanted to create were the epitome of the picture-postcard 1950s family, living in a quiet suburban house while abiding by their Christian values – Harris an upper middle-class businessman, and Leah his homemaking wife.
The depiction of the 1950s was one I truly wanted to put the greatest effort into, as I wanted to capture the sense of time the characters lived in, akin to the likes of Grease or some of the period black and white movies of the era, with people getting on with their lives and upholding the image of capitalism being superior to communism in everything they did, regardless of the fact that in reality, this superficial ‘golden’ time was more just a glorified pantomime of social morality that hid away a multitude of sins.
While I may come across as somewhat harsh to the people of the 1950s in my writings, the truth is there’s something to admire about the period. It was a very harmonious time filled with the prospect of improved technology and a generally better world than the post-Victorian years around World War I and II, a fleeting decade of hope among the middle and upper classes that we, in the Western World, had overcome our barbarism and would never allow such atrocities to happen again, America leading the charge with its technological might. This mindset was reflected squarely in the image of the suburban home, a freshly cut lawn with a white picket fence, two cars on every driveway and a family of four living their lives filled with smiles.
Not to say that such a pleasant life wasn’t earned – men and women of the time had fought long and hard during World War II to achieve the peace they had so very much desired, and now with the war over it was about time they were allowed a chance to reap the harvest of their sacrifice.
Unfortunately, this era of what could only be described as ‘forced happiness’ was one that, with the benefit of hindsight, smacked of phoniness, an attitude of ‘just-keep-smiling-and-don’t-question-it’ being enforced to keep back the looming threat of communism during the early and most aggressive stages of the Cold War. This innocent face of naïve wholesomeness, while charming to look at and reflect on in old films, was only really of benefit to the select few, and the reality was a cauldron of environmental, social, political and economic problems that were quietly brushed under the rug and happily ignored.
While I could go into detail about the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the McCarthy witch-hunts filling the nation’s head with paranoia, and the demands for new technology creating an unmatched consumerism littered with trash-heaps, planned obsolescence, corporate corruption and terrifying environmental impacts which would haunt the Western World for decades to come, the focus of Leah and Harris, and their twin daughters Josie and Jinny, are the social ramifications of the 1950s American attitude.
In truth, Leah and Harris are not bad people, and both desire nothing more than a happy home for their children where they can grow up safe and socially secure. However, in their drive to pursue the American ideal of the suburban family, the pair completely miss the fact that, by the end of the decade, the mood of the world was changing rapidly as cracks began to form in the utopia they hoped would last forever, their daughter, Jinny, being almost the face of this new trend.
Much of my information as to how people lived in the 1950s and early 60s came from my mum, and she gave me a great insight into how the mindsets of the period changed rapidly from the wholesomeness of the American ideal to the liberal backlash of the Hippie era. For the youth especially, maintaining the façade was one that strangled many of their opportunities to learn more about themselves as they grew – there was no such thing as a teenager, kids were considered children right up until the age of eighteen, and thus would be treated as such despite their hormonal protestations.
In this regard, no one would ever have ‘the talk’ with their children. The idea of romance and sex was a taboo topic, considered a vice of the undeveloped world, with most girls and boys only finding out about lovemaking suddenly and sharply on their wedding night. Though I’m someone who values the innocence of children and am very protective of their wellbeing, there are certain conversations that need to be had in order to expand their understanding of both themselves and the world around them, rather than the belief that children keep their childish mindset all the way until 18, when a switch is flicked and suddenly they’re adults.
This lack of communication was far too common in the 1950s, and so what resulted was Leah and Harris unable to identify that their daughter had changed from an impish little girl to a lustful young woman, and by the time reality set in, it was far, far too late.
Again, Leah and Harris are not bad people, just misguided by the attitude of the time. In this, each of their daughters inherit traits from the other, Josie taking on her mother’s understated and kind demeanor, while Jinny possesses the fiery fighting spirit that helped her father survive the savagery of Iwo Jima. Their main flaw, and subsequent failure, is a lack of communication between themselves and their kids, and it’s through this misunderstanding that they don’t see the signs of Jinny’s underlying desires and help to point out to her the rights and wrongs of growing up.