Discussion Thread #9

Everyone, here is the penultimate discussion thread of the semester. It is a song by folkie Malvina Reynolds. The song “Little Boxes” was released in the 1960s and is a critique of the suburban lifestyle that emerged in the 15-20 years after the Second World War. In class we have discussed white flight and the prefabricated subdivisions built in Levittown, Long Island and elsewhere. Some consider the song s a biting critique of what they see as the conformity of the era; others think it pretentious and self-congratulatory. We are interested in what you think of the song. Share your thoughts in the usual 100-300 words.

30 thoughts on “Discussion Thread #9”

  1. Malvina Reynolds couldn’t explain Levittown any better. Levittown was unique its self, the people that occupy Levittown weren’t so unique. The people from Levittown have no identity of their own people worked at similar jobs. It feels like a clone city where people would be looked at as weird person if they wanted to be different felt, Levittown reminds me a book I read in high school called Fahrenheit 451 where theses people that lived in this town had to weren’t allowed to read and they had to burn the book and if the were caught doing something out of the norm they got punished and people, the society also would tell on each other if they felt that their neighbors were doing wrong. Seeing the image of what Levittown looked very artificial like a house was just copped and past on photoshop. Even though Levittown was seen as a great opportunity it disserted the areas the people of Levittown migrated from lowering the economy of the neighborhoods they came from. which stripped the opportunity for neighborhood funding like schooling public space such as libraries and etc. As a fellow New Yorker living in one the most diverse city I don’t think I would be able to live in a area like Levittown, if I existed today.

    1. Joseph, this is very thoughtful. Good point too about how as people moved out to the suburbs the tax base within the cities shrank. As you say, this had huge implications for schools, libraries, and other public spaces. One thing: in you last line, if I’m I’m reading correctly, you seem to be saying that Levittown today does not exist. Just to be clear, please note that it is still very much there.

  2. The melody was catchy yet soothing to the ear. I would honestly give the song another listen for the calming beat. Also, the lyrics held a brief historical context in Long Island during the 1950s to 1960s. The song has repetitive lyrics that emphasized the comparison to human’s likeness despite the difference in skin color. There may be different professionals that define our character more, but at the end of the day, we are all human sharing the same necessary needs. The comparison relates to the issue of pre-existing division between whites and people of color. Rather than accepting the modern move towards integrating different races into one community, Long Island was creating communities that separated the whites from people of color with the use of the six-lane highway, Meadowbrook Parkway. Other than Long Island, some states in the United States adopted this form of mentality within their community. This mindset is apart of a larger racial issue that is still evident in modern society in the United States. Besides, they only identity people by their skin color rather than their physical capabilities and their personalities.

  3. Listening to this song by Malvina Reynolds I hear a lot of sarcasm and truth. Reynolds is describing Levittown as a suburban area that’s created the way that society wants them to be portrayed as. The key word that stood out to me in this song was “all”. She continuously uses this word to show that “all” or everyone in this town are like puppets and all look and do the same things. They ALL have good jobs, ALL their children grow up going to college learning the same. The term “ticky tacky” shows that they were fake and not authentic. They are being dehumanized by society which makes it seem like a norm when its really baffling to me. I am almost sure, that if someone of a different race or ethnicity moved into that neighborhood, they would be treated unfairly or forced to leave. Although this song is speaking to Levittown of 1950, there are still current areas in Long Island and elsewhere still experiencing this. We still see racism and discrimination happening. Some people want the world to continue working this way but how does that make it better for all?

  4. In the wake of tuning in to Malvina Reynolds’ “little boxes”, I simply adored how it sounds with the guitar just if I am not mixed up and also the hidden meaning in the song. I find the song to be an incredibly creative way to describe society and would definitely agree that it is very suitable for the stereotypical rich family. Even if it was not intended there is always something in a song lyrics that you can take away, even when you’re in different time periods. You can use it to understand the society from which it came. Now it has got my attention and I have to listen to it all over again.

    1. Michael, you capture a lot here. One thing: I wouldn’t necessarily describe residents of Levittown during this period of the 1950s and 1960s as rich but middle class. The whole idea of Levittown was to build prefabricated houses on the assembly-line method and sell them primarily to returning GIs and their young families. It was done much in the same way Henry Ford built his cars for middle-class people.

  5. At the first listen to the song, I found those acoustic guitar strings to be soothing to hear. Throughout the song, Malvina Reynolds was singing sarcastically when she kept emphasizing people living in little boxes and they all look the same. From that, she meant the white-flight and the prefabricated subdivisions in Levittown. Levittown was, without a doubt, white-based and completely segregated; Especially when she sang the university lyric, where they go to university and live in little boxes and they come out the same. Everyone acts and looks like one another, and that is quite frankly a world I would never like to live in. More dystopian than utopian, if that was what white flight was attempting to create.

  6. The Nylon guitar is very soothing to the ear. Folk music was very popular back then it’s interesting how the songwriter uses context to intensify the current events. The listener can tell the writer has no love for suburbia and kinda assume she feels sorry for the people in the houses. For example, in this verse where she refers to the “ticky-tacky”, I feel like it relates to the cheap building materials used in these houses to cut corners and lower costs. Since post-World War II, the average person could finally afford a college education, the GI Bill helped the returning soldiers find normal, non-military lives, so they bought into the American Dream and became “doctors, lawyers, and business executives”, as mentioned in the song. The song also talks about the University putting people in another kind of “Little Box.” I feel like it refers to the idea of If one is a doctor, they have to live their life in a certain way. To keep that “expectation” or fulfill the idea of how society is supposed to view them. It’s an overall interesting symbolist song.

  7. I found the song “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds a little silly. The song was catchy, but it seems as if they were making fun of Levittown. The song was repetitive and stressed the fact that everything in Levittown was not unique and that everything was the same. The song also brought to light that the town was built out of cheap materials and everyone followed the same pathway. For example, the song spoke about the people in the suburbs “have pretty children, and they go to school”. It’s kind of seems like Malvina believes that the people who raised their families in Levittown doesn’t have a mind of their own. They only desire to do what seems traditional to them.

  8. After listening to this song one of my first impressions was how it sounded like everyone was was comfortable with how everything was. The way I see it, they liked the way things were there was no change in their life and expected no change. Everything was kept the same and therefore they went about their day as they would any other day. They did not want to deal with the rest of the outside world so they decided to conform to the “little boxes” that society has created. To add on, the song described the lack of uniqueness in the town stating how everyone followed the same pathway. In my opinion this song is a clear depiction of time after the second world war for a certain side.

  9. I’d actually heard this song before, not it’s original form, but as a cover and when I’d originally heard it I didn’t really piece together what it was about as I was probably too young. That being said hearing it now, it reminds me a lot of a newer song called merry-go-round by Kacey musgraves as it sort of talks about the monotony of suburban life and a pressure to follow tradition and to end up the same way your parents were. What I find the most interesting is both of those songs expressing an almost identical sentiment, yet releasing 50 years apart from each other, really goes to show suburban life hasn’t changed all that much.

    1. Gillen, how cool that you once heard a cover of “Little Boxes.” I’m glad you now have more context in which to understand the song. Funnily enough, just a few weeks ago I heard Kacey Musgraves’s “Merry-Go-Round” for the first time. Indeed there are definitely similarities between the two songs even though they were written and recorded fifty years apart.

  10. The song basically just represents what life is like in the suburbs and how everyone that lives there, even though they are all unique, are the same person. There is a line in the song that says “And the boys go into business And marry and raise a family In boxes made of ticky tacky And they all look just the same” and this shows how the cycle of suburban life repeats every generation. The song is very repetitive and the message is very clear. I don’t know how the artist felt about levittown but from my understanding of the song it sounds like he’s making fun of it and other suburbs.

  11. Before I start to mention the lyrics of the song, I want to point out the rhythm and how she sings the song. I get an image of her with a big smile on her face as she sings this song, dancing or rather swinging from side to side with the rhythm. The rhythm as well if you don’t understand the lyrics it just sounds like something that is having fun like songs you will hear from the playground. After learning or thinking more about the lyrics, however, the smile kind of turns into a smug, and the song starts to sound more sarcastic and mocking. The lyrics really capture the essence of society. In the first little boxes, she is mocking the building appearance during the time the song was written, how it all looking exactly the same like copy-pasted, one after another, with little to no difference, it was even point out in the song that even if there is a difference it is just the color of the boxes but in the end, they are still the same. The second “boxes,” she mentions she is talking about the education system and how everyone will come out the same, which unfortunately still applies to this day and age. Since school is to teach how society functions and how to behave oneself they are essentially shaped into boxes to fit into society, at the end becoming one of the same, and then the cycle repeats itself as people have children and grandchildren. I personally found this song kind of fun to sing.

  12. When I first hear the song without looking at the lyrics, I thought it’s about people moving from suburbia to the city and that ticky-tacky sound reminds me of the train. I also feel the rhythm is kind of weird since it wants to show happiness but somehow I can feel satire inside. And then after I look at the song, I suddenly get it. Suburbia’s life isn’t bad at all because I was living in the countryside when I was young and all of a sudden political wants to destroy the place and rebuild for new centuries. Which really makes the place suck. People living in the same boxes, doing the same thing, and repeating every day. That’s the robotic life no one wants but we have to sacrifice for the political party.

  13. When I first hear the song without looking at the lyrics, I thought it’s about people moving from suburbia to the city and that ticky-tacky sound reminds me of the train. I also feel the rhythm is kind of weird since it wants to show happiness but somehow I can feel satire inside. And then after I look at the song, I suddenly get it. Suburbia’s life isn’t bad at all because I was living in the countryside when I was young and all of a sudden political wants to destroy the place and rebuild for new centuries. Which really makes the place suck. People living in the same boxes, doing the same thing, and repeating every day. That’s the robotic life no one wants but we have to sacrifice for the political party.

  14. This is a very interesting take on what life was like back than. Not just a critique during this era, it seems to be a descriptive visual of what life was like on a daily basis. What i found most interesting about this son, is that we can accurately compare this to our own lives today. She goes into detail explain how in these house holds, we have children who go to school and inevitably follow these regular educational traditions of growing up in a typical big family, study to become doctors and lawyers, etc. but at the end of the day what i interpreted the ending of her song to describe, would be that we are still the same, we are all human, and we all fit in this same “ticky-tacky-colored box” as she sings about. Which once could probably analyze this to be, being just like anyone else. We are no better than others, no matter what our educational and wealth status might be. We will always be human first.

  15. There was a lot to consume from listening to the song as it basically told the conditions in the suburban areas. The people that lived there were said to be all the same in their “ticky tacky” boxes and that the lifestyle will continue in a cycle. The song has a catchy tone to it that will have you repeating the words in your head which could have been the intention of Malvina Reynolds. She wanted the people to know how the conditions were in Levittown by making fun of it in her own way through music with a sarcastic voice.

  16. I find this song by Malvina Reynolds to be quite interesting. So much so that I had to give the song a few listens before I was able to really comprehend the lyrics. While I very much enjoyed the song, what stood out to me the most was the fact that she was highlighting just how much people are losing their individuality and conforming to the norm as they move out to the “little boxes,” after going to college. Thus, I can certainly see how this song was considered to be a critique on places like Levittown. Personally, NYC’s diverse nature and individuality is what makes it so attractive. Therefore, to live the drab and mundane life that she is describing for the prefabricated subdivisions, is something I can never see working out if it were to be implemented on a smaller scale here in the 5 boroughs. Not only that, but it does explain why locations like Long Island are the way that they are. In my opinion, and from what I’ve seen, they are infinitely famous for their small town life. Which also means, as a result, that it might be better suited to raising families, but the lifestyle of such a place can wear out very quickly. And as we all know, human nature is one that contains much curiosity. And curiosity often leads to mischievous endeavours.

    1. “And as we all know, human nature is one that contains much curiosity. And curiosity often leads to mischievous endeavours.”

      Dawson, great line. I enjoyed this post and your others as well. Well done.

  17. This song by Malvina was quite interesting. This was my first time hearing this song. The melody of the guitar was very calming to listen to. After I listen to the song a few times I feel like it tells a story of great value that one can appreciate.
    I wondered what inspired her to write such a unique song. Did she experience a situation similar to the song? The song mentions a lot of things about different doctors and lawyers. The lyrics also mention the dynamics of their family life with their children. The people in Levittown seem like they were people who were high maintenance and privileged with money. We all wear different hats and are at many places at different times. At the end of the day we are all human seeking different needs and different purposes. The song teaches you a lesson and opens up your mind to look and appreciate what you have. I really liked the first verse of the sound and I enjoyed listening to the tone and beat of the song. . We all don’t know what the future holds. It’s up to everyone to treat others how we would want to be treated.

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