The Second Shift

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“I am a working mother. I am nuts,” proclaims an unkempt cartoon woman on a mug. Surrounded by mounds of papers, a crying baby, and a broom, she is exhausted but resolute. What is held up as absurd in this cartoon is not the economic necessity of her working or her husband’s failure to help. It is her own choice to work that makes her an object of cheerful self-mocking.

In THE SECOND SHIFT: WORKING PARENTS AND THE REVOLUTION AT HOME, Arlie Hochschild holds up to the light this and many other strategies by which women and men in two-career marriages juggle work pressures and family needs. Between 1980 and 1988, Hochschild and her research associates interviewed fifty couples at great length. Hochschild also observed family life in a dozen homes. At the heart of her book are the stories of eleven couples. All but two are members of the middle and upper-middle class; each couple has made decisions and developed justifying myths a bit differently. Each has its own “economy of gratitude.”

Hochschild is very much interested in the interrelationships between power--perceived and actual--and bonds of human caring. Her phrase “economy of gratitude” makes reference to what is given and received as gifts between spouses and how those gifts are valued. For example, if a woman earns more money than her husband, his male pride may suffer. His willingness to bear the affront may be viewed by both as a sacrificial gift, and out of guilt and...

(The entire section is 453 words.)