Given Toth’s argument that growing up in a small town in the 1950’s could be pleasant and fulfilling, Blooming appropriately uses a balanced, lighthearted tone. Toth often pokes fun at herself, but she also has great sympathy for her community and the younger version of herself. She offers detailed descriptions of 1950’s material culture, and her stories and reflections bring to life the texture of everyday life in a small midwestern town during the decade.
Beneath this often-humorous storytelling, however, Blooming also provides a useful analysis of how gender marked the lives of girls in the 1950’s. She reveals some of the strongly defined gender expectations in Ames, such as the notion that males would be inclined to science and females to literature, but she also shows her own faith in these visions of gender difference. While the adult narrator looks back critically at the sometimes clear divisions between male and female behavior, Toth also shows how her younger self found guidance and fulfillment in those divisions. In a humorous but also critical passage, for example, she describes the pleasure and agony of classic rituals such as preparing for and attending high-school dances. For girls, such rituals offered the first chance to wear stockings and lipstick, two signs of adult femininity that Toth remembers with both nostalgia and disdain. This ironic stance allows her to demonstrate both how traditional gender expectations could place limits on a young girl during her coming-of-age and how she might find such ideas about masculinity and femininity attractive.
One attractive aspect of being female was the essential link that shared gender identity created among Toth...
(The entire section is 704 words.)