I have long pondered this 1948 Saturday Evening Post cover by onetime leading American illustrator Stevan Dohanos. For those unfamiliar, the Post was America’s largest weekly and for decades it was the publishing home of Norman Rockwell (covers) and dozens of other American realist and representational illustrators. Many of the covers were elaborate gags or vignettes of American life. This is certainly a snippet of life in the Connecticut suburbs. But there is something more, well, sinister, going on. Let’s examine the clues.
There are indeed many codes found in this image. The middle-class suburb represents the return to status quo after a period of turmoil. Is Dohanos trying to show normalcy? Perhaps. But it does so by showing the victims of what might be a nasty and deliberate assault on American propriety.
Obviously, even with the rain obscuring his vision, the driver had to be aware of the bus stop. A case can be made that he was making a sociopolitical statement: The working man against the suburban elite? Or not?
What I don’t understand is why the victims were not further away from the curb since they obviously could see the puddle and were able to anticipate the splash even from the bus.
The most injured party was not the mother, who was too close to the curb, but the young Betty Lou, whose surprise is palpable. Her trauma may stay with her for a long time. We’ll never know.
So there are hidden meanings in this cover. The disparity between the wealthy and working class. The lack of common sense judgement on the part of both parties. And the overwhelming evidence that even in this quiet suburban America in the postwar era, there were unspoken tensions bubbling under the wet pavement, waiting to explode.
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