Little Boxes

Malvina Reynolds, 1962

What are the "little boxes"? What is "ticky-tacky"? How does the meaning change in each verse?

What kind of neighborhood does the song describe? Show pictures of Levittown or other planned suburbs. What are some nearby neighborhoods that started like these? Where were most of these neighborhoods located? Suburbs.

Why did these suburban neighborhoods spring up after the war? GI Bill, baby boom, more automobiles. Why do all the houses look alike?

Reynolds calls schools and universities "little boxes" where the children come out "all the same." Do you agree? What happens to society when everyone comes out the same?

What if something mixed things up, like the kids didn't all go to the university or into business? How would things change?

Reynolds called the nuclear family a "blind alley:" "Originally it was … the extended family. And some … are moving in that direction again. But for most, as the nuclear family is breaking up, people are left with no replacement." What insight does this give you into "Little Boxes"?

 

"Little Boxes" performed by Malvina Reynolds on Ear to the Ground, Smithsonian Folkways, © 2000. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Malvina Reynolds visit her official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

http://www.malvinareynolds.com/mr094.htm

Advertisement for Levittown.

Malvina Reynolds (1900–78) was born in San Francisco and did not begin composing songs until late in her life. She worked in a steel foundry as a social worker, and later as a newspaper editor, before earning a PhD in English language and literature from the University of California. Her songs were recorded by many famous stars and she authored numerous songbooks, including several for children. Reynolds was also the subject of the documentary film Love It Like a Fool. Raised by socialist parents, Reynolds like Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. In an interview just prior to her death, Reynolds claimed she was initially blacklisted in high school, and that they wouldn't give her a diploma because she was a socialist. Reynolds considered herself a writer of popular songs, not folk songs. Although admittedly influenced by folk music, she felt that folk music was traditional music, and thus a different style from hers.

In her final interview, Reynolds discussed her view of the "nuclear family," stating that the nuclear family is a "blind alley." She continued, "Originally it was the clan, the extended family. And some people are deliberately moving in that direction again. But for most, as the nuclear family is breaking up, people are left with no replacement." Perhaps "Little Boxes" is a metaphor for the nuclear family; each family lives in their own "little box" (Frym).

The Showtime series Weeds (2005–12) about a woman who deals in marijuana to support her family, used "Little Boxes" as their theme song. Each episode featured a different artist playing the song.

Find then-and-now photos of a neighborhood built around 1960. What changes have occurred? Do they still look alike? Why?

Check newspaper ads from the era to find housing costs, salaries, and grocery prices. Make a budget allowing a family to buy a house, budget for food and clothes, and save for college.