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Analysis Of The Fallen Angel Cake Essay

A few months ago, I was digging through my mother’s old pictures for fun on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. I quickly stumbled across her senior picture from 1985. I was struck by her big hair, bigger thick rimmed glasses, and her excessive use of hairspray (seriously if one had lit a match, the entire photo studio probably would have been engulfed in flames). The 1980s truly were a time of economic prosperity, rabid materialism, and outlandish fashion choices ushered in by a Reagan Presidency. People felt invincible in a booming economy and women, such as my mother, believed the world was their oyster due to increased college and career prospects.

No aspect of life was safe from these effects, including urban legends. In Jan Harold Brunvand’s Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, “The Fallen Angel Cake” truly represents 1980s culture for women of the time. This legend lends itself to be studied through a historical lens. The plot, characters, and symbolism entwine to create a legend with a theme of facades that represents the zeitgeist of the 1980s. To better understand this time period, I will describe the happenings of the 1980s that will guide this historical analysis.

One of the major characteristics of the 1980s was image and materialism. Many 1980s families had more disposable income, largely due to having two working parents. Women of the 1980s had more career opportunities due to the feminist revolution that characterized the culture of the 1960s and 70s. Women who were born during this time period were growing up with major influences from feminist leaders such as Gloria Steinham and Betty Friedan. The advances made by these women paved the way for women of the 80s to attend college and get better, higher paying jobs.

These women were no longer solely devoted to life at home, but rather had jobs to think about as well. As a result of this higher income, many families had extra money to spend, and with technological advances, consumerism reached peaks not seen since the 1950’s. Going hand in hand with these two important historical advancements, image became extremely important. Looking good, fitting in, and having it all (i. e. money, power, appearance) were seen as important traits to climbing social, economic, and even political ladders, After all, a former actor was the president.

These ideals permeated the culture of the 1980s, influencing all factors of life. “Keeping up with the Joneses’” became a mantra for many families, contributing to image obsession and materialism. The main them I will reference repeatedly throughout this historical analysis is the idea of facades, particularly the main characters desire keep them up for as long as possible. Looking at this theme through a historical lens, the above mentioned cultural changes contribute greatly to how and why this theme is important to “The Fallen Angel Cake”.

The plot of this legend is simple, but not without an important commentary on 1980s ideals. The story starts out with a busy mother making a cake for a church bake sale. After taking it out the oven, she realizes that the middle of the cake, which should be fluffy and peaked, has sunken in. Lacking time to prepare another cake, the mother stuffs the middle with toilet paper, sending it to the church bake sale with the intention of having her daughter hastily buy it before anyone can find out. However, the daughter does not buy the cake in time and it goes home with another parishioner.

The mother then goes to her bridge club. She sees the cake in the hostess’ kitchen and right when she is about to tell the hostess about the mishap, she overhears her boasting how she made the cake from scratch. This urban legend was circulated in the 1980s, the peak time in which women were entering the workforce in high numbers. They were not home, completely devoted to children and housewifery, but rather pursuing interests that were essential to their identity. The woman in the legend obviously lacked time, as she could not make another cake when her previous one was ruined.

The main theme of this legend is keeping up appearances so a character never corrodes an appealing facade created to keep up with 1980s counterparts. The mother falsely inflating the cake allows readers to see that a combination of keeping up appearances and lack of time contributes to her covering up her cake mishap. She would rather be seen as having a perfectly pristine cake on the outside, rather than be caught with a cake that shows her authentically making a mistake. This mother decides to keep up her facade, even though she clearly could own up to her mistake.

This fits into the larger framework of the 1980s, where image and appearance were extremely important in one’s life. Additionally, the plot detail about the other woman buying the cake can represent both consumerisms of the 1980s, a lack of time for that woman as well, and potential embarrassment for her in the future. She must also be lacking time to prepare a cake for her bridge club, so buying a cake is an easy fix for her. However, she tries to pass this cake off as her own. This small plot device can allow readers to see that she wants to keep up her appearance as well.

These characters passing the other woman’s cake off as her own shows how she wants to keep up her facade of having it all as well. These plot details allow readers to see how keeping up with appearance permeated the culture of the 1980s. “The Fallen Angel Cake” also shows historically accurate characters that can easily fit into the analysis of this legend. The central character of the mother is most likely a working mother who does not have much time on her hands to be preoccupied with baking perfect cakes.

She is most likely highly interested in the way her image is presented, causing her stress and anxiety when she realizes that her cake is not perfect and may be ridiculed if others find out about her cake faux pas. This is typical of 1980s ideals about how people should act. As mentioned earlier in this analysis, the 1980s were characterized by a highly materialistic world view. Judgement was passed on a person’s clothing, hair, car, and many other attributes. If one did not have the look, they were ostracized.

This character was so preoccupied with this idea, that she would rather fake her cake, than admit to her shortcoming and risk embarrassment. This fits into the larger perspective of this legend that discusses the theme of creating a facade, because faking the cake seemed more plausible to this character than to show her mistake. This character’s purpose in this story is to show an extreme of the 1980s materialism. The other major character in this story is the woman who purchased the stuffed cake. This woman also shows an extreme of the importance of impressions within the 1980s.

This character fakes the cake in a different way than the main character, taking credit for something that she did not do. This character is also preoccupied with appearing perfect in the context of the bridge club. She may want the club to view her as a perfect working mother and housewife as well, and is not above lying to appear so. This character’s motives are also tailored toward the 1980’s view that it is not what you do; it’s what you look and act like. These women each wanted have it all. Society at the time was extremely polarizing on this issue.

Women were expected to work, but also be able to have dinner on he table. Society told women they needed to hold their own in the boardroom, but also in their child’s playroom. These beliefs contribute to legends like this being passed around. The most embarrassing thing for women of the 80s was to be thought of as not being able to handle it all. These women in this legend unfortunately fell victim to this idea, and allowed their time period to control their emotions and actions. Symbolically, this legend also shows how permeating this culture of materialism was to helping women create facades they could never live up to.

The cake in this story represents the 1980’s. It is prepared perfectly, with no flaws. This represents the 1980s mother; perfect on the outside, but falling flat once put under pressure of being a great mother and career woman. The mother stuffing the cake with the toilet paper represents a fake representation of life and appearance in the 1980s. The toilet paper is inflating a facade to make the cake look perfect. It is also a representation of the building of societal pressures to conform and avoid stepping out of line in order to keep up materialistic appearances.

The buying of the cake represents the materialism of 1980’s society. Things were meant to be bought and sold in excess and this is a representation of this belief. Finally, the woman buying the cake is a representation of materialism once again and her lie about baking the cake represents a social construct of seeming to have it all. This symbolism together allows readers to see how these aspects combine to contribute to both the historical views of the time as well as the theme of embarrassment and humiliation prevalent throughout this story.

The 1980s truly were a time for excess. Whether it is seen as economically stimulating or crippling for those who could not live up to standards set by the times is widely debated. However, viewing this legend through a historical approach allows readers to understand the 1980s ideals and social aspects that were accepted. Plot wise, this legend shows readers that humiliation was extremely feared in 1980s culture and many would often build up false impressions of themselves in order to fit in and conform to the societal pressures of the time.

This is represented in the mother stuffing the cake in order to appear perfect. The characters in this story also show readers that the ideal woman of the 1980s was supposed to have it all, but when that woman falls short, she may resort to extreme measures to keep up her perfect facade. Finally, symbolism is relevant to show the historical contexts of this legend because it allows readers to think about what these objects and characters of this legend may represent in a historical context. Overall, this legend was intriguing and it is easily identified as resulting from 1980s culture.

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