This story takes place in Jenkinsville, Arkansas around the early 1940s, during World War II (WWII). Although WWII was not actually fought in the United States, Americans were still greatly affected by the war in many ways.
Once the United States became involved in the War, in 1941, patriotism greatly increased in the American society. Americans were willing to participate in blackouts and other defense drills, recycling of metals and paper, working longer hours and making less money; the nation strongly supported the war.
During the war, the economy brought a drastic change in the workforce. Around eight million Americans were unemployed in 1940. Because many men were overseas fighting the war, more and more women joined the workforce; the economy gradually started to rise again and by 1945 women made up a large percent of the nations workforce.
The government also encouraged Americans to conserve and recycle materials like paper, rubber and metal, so factories could use them for wartime production. Americans were also encouraged to cut back on foodstuffs and consumer goods. They needed ration cards to purchase items such as coffee, gasoline, meat and sugar.
Segregation was still prominent in the South during WWII. It was developed by whites after slavery was abolished, with the purpose of controlling and confining the blacks. Segregation in the South, first emerged in the cities. Some places in southern cities, blacks and whites were found living in the same house, divided by a wall; the purpose of this was for the convenience of the masters and the control of the slaves.
Although slavery had long been abolished, in the 1930’s and 1940’s many laws were passed which still segregated African Americans from the whites. For example, white passengers were only driven by white taxi drivers; similarly black passengers were only allowed to be driven by black taxi drivers. In public places, there were separate rooms designated for whites and blacks, such as bathrooms and waiting rooms. In some Southern cities it was even forbidden for black and white children to play together. Since this novel takes place during the 1940’s, it is no surprise to us that the Bergen’s have an African American housekeeper, and that the town of Jenkinsville has a segregated neighborhood called “Nigger Bottoms”.
Within the American society, during WWII, there was also much racism and tension between Americans and German-Americans. Many young men, such as Ruth’s son, Robert, were drafted overseas to fight Hitler and Germany; this was a very emotional time for Americans, seeing their loved ones go to war, that it seems only natural that there would be this growing tension between Americans and German-Americans. This is even more so true for the Prisoners of War (POWs). Americans despised the German soldiers who were brought to the United States.
Bette Greene uses this WWII time period, along with these two racism issues, to convey Patty’s difficulty in balancing her loyalty to her country, against following her heart.