October Sky Ethics and Morals October%20Sky%20book%20cover_small1[1].jpg

Whether an act is ethical or moral all depends on the eye of the beholder. When we hear the term morality today, we mostly think of religion and that when you do something against the religion you are immoral. An easy way of understanding the words ethics and morals is to think of two simple words - good or bad. A person must reflect on their actions and decide if they were good or bad.

Many trends have changed since the 1950’s - from clothing, cars, and schools, to morals and ethics. Events that occurred back in the 1950’s that were just unheard of are more openly discussed today. Back in the 1950’s, people sugarcoated the truth and made the world seem like everything ran smoothly. Nobody recognized the truth and they tried to disguise their personal flaws. 1950’s television shows, “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver”, both portraying what was thought of as the “average” middle class family in America. Although these shows claimed to show “reality”, they overshadowed real-life problems with issues that were not very significant. These television shows solely showed episodes that were entertaining to their viewers. They never showed true struggles families experienced, and instead showed a cookie cutter family where most everything ran smoothly in their lives with only minor bumps. The mother was a stay-at-home mom and cooked and cleaned for her kids and husband. The dad would go off to work in a shirt and tie with his briefcase by his side. He was also the one who took care of the yard work and taught his sons right from wrong. The father was the supporter of the family financially and physically. In an episode of “Leave It To Beaver”, Beaver’s teacher sends him home with a note to give his parents. Assuming that the note is about something bad, Beaver climbs a large Oak tree in attempt to hide. However, his clandestine plan was ruined when his brother Wally tells their parents and they come down to scold Beaver. As Beaver is stuck in the tree, Beaver’s dad tells him to come down immediately. Beaver responds by saying, “I can’t. You’ll hit me.” His dad is furious and says, “You bet I –,” and then stops when he notices that people are behind him, staring in disbelief. He stops midway into his sentence because he realizes people are going to think that he beats his son and this is not the impression that he wants others to have of him. In all of the “Leave It To Beaver” episodes, Beaver finds his way into some sort of trouble and learns a lesson when he is caught and admonished by his parents. Beaver’s actions were morally incorrect, but were so miniscule that they didn’t really apply to all kids at this time. Never did the shows air topics about kids becoming alcoholics or drug addicts. In addition, this episode clearly showed the family’s attempt to appear superior to others. The father did not want others to think that he beat his kids and therefore did not finish what he was going to say. Many of these attributes were in other television shows as well at this time period and aired similar topics and views.

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In the 1950’s, shows didn’t air that had storylines about dysfunctional families and difficult issues. People didn’t want to discuss things that were controversial and didn’t want to appear inferior to others. This way of living also conveys to the book, October Sky. Many events took place in this book in a furtive manner. The Hickam family tried to portray themselves as the average Coalwood family and kept what really happened to them, to themselves. In addition to their surreptitious life, there were many actions in the book that were morally and ethically incorrect. In the story, one will read about Homer Hickam’s relationship with his sons. Homer has two sons, Jim and Sonny. Jim is a great athlete and star football player at his school. Sonny on the other hand, doesn’t have an ounce of athleticism in his body. Instead, Sonny develops a passion for rocket building and strives to pursue a career in rocketry. It is very evident throughout the book that Homer favors his eldest son, Jim. “ Actually, Dad had mollified my brother, if only a little. Jim now had exclusive use of the Buick every Saturday night. He didn’t even have to wash it first if he didn’t want to.” This is an example of Homer’s favoritism when he lets Jim use the car over Sonny. Some people believe that is not morally correct favor one child over the other. Parents are supposed to love their children equally and divide their attention evenly upon them. “I was watching television in the living room one night when Mom suggested to Dad, after he had spent some minutes on the mine phone boasting about Jim to one of his foreman, that it might be a good thing if he bragged on me every once in a while. Even though he knew I was in the same room, Dad thought for a moment and then wondered aloud, quite honestly, “What about?” Almost anybody who would read this line today would feel bad for Sonny, who sat in a room and heard his dad say this about him. Personally I find Homer’s attitude towards Sonny absurd. I think it is morally wrong to evidently show more compassion to one child over another. Throughout the book Sonny struggled with his relationship with his father. Homer did not find interest in rockets and therefore didn’t pay attention to his son. There is no doubt that Homer loved both of his sons, but it is perceptible that he favored Jim over Sonny.

Controversial topics were not openly talked about back in the 1950’s, at which time this book was written. It was unheard of to discuss unfortunate happenings that occurred within families. If there was a crime committed or any other disgrace to the family, it was not easily talked about. This is true for October Sky. In the book, Sonny disgraces the family by hitting the mine with one of his rockets. The following Sunday, the pastor made his sermon about father-son relationships. He started off by talking about sons disobeying their fathers and not respecting them. At this the congregation listened intently. However, when he started talking about the other side of the story – fathers not listening to their sons, the congregation stirred restlessly. After the pastor was done his sermon, it said he wiped the sweat off his brow – implying that the pastor was nervous talking about such a touchy subject. Something as simple as talking about father-son relationships – which we do not consider a controversial topic – was a sore subject to talk about in the 1950’s. Back then it was unethical to talk about subjects that were uncomfortable. One would never hear about someone confessing they had beaten their children or about someone who admitted they were bisexual. They did not talk about these issues because they didn’t want to make a bad reputation for their family.

In the story it talks about a woman by the name of Geneva Eggers. One day Sonny was walking home from Dorothy’s house in a storm. The snow was coming down so profusely that he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it home alive, and he suddenly heard a voice. It was a woman’s voice telling him to come inside immediately before he became frostbitten. This woman was Geneva Eggars. This kind lady took Sonny into her house, dried his clothes and cooked him a hot meal. She asked him who his parents were and responded by telling her, “Elsie and Homer Hickam.” When Sonny told her that his father was Homer Hickam, she immediately told him to tell his dad that he was at her house. After Sonny was dry and fed, he hurried home. When he arrived at home his father asked him where he was. Sonny told his dad that he was at Geneva’s house and his dad fell silent. Homer modestly told Sonny about Geneva – how she had many boyfriends at one time. Then he told Sonny not to ever tell his mother that he was at her house. From this one can infer that Geneva Eggars was a prostitute. At this time, these types of subjects were not talked about. As one can see in this story, people in this time period tried to keep facts like this to themselves. It was not morally right to have more than one boyfriend at a time and it was just something nobody talked about.

Many actions that were thought of as morally and ethically incorrect back in the 1950’s are still thought of the same way today. However, what has changed is that people are more open to talk about uncomfortable situations and aren’t as quick to hide them. There are many television shows where there isn’t really anything “off-limits” when it comes to discussion. An example of this is the show on MTV, “True Life.” “True life” has aired on MTV since 1998 and has had over 100 different episodes about all different subjects. The topics of the episodes range anywhere, from talking about embarrassing parents to talking about being in the sex industry. These episodes are intended to depict people with certain issues and their way of life. Their daily lives are filmed and their personal space is invaded. The audience has a “true” look into these people’s lives and hears their side of the story. These touchy subjects are discussed freely and openly with the whole world to see these individual’s lives. Some of the episodes even diminish the person’s character and makes them seem unappealing. Some of the topics are ethically and morally incorrect according to some people, but different from the 1950’s, they are discussed with ease. Many people, including myself, watch these shows purely for entertainment and not to analyze them. Back in the 1950’s, not only were these types of subjects not the basis of television shows, but also they were locked behind closet doors and not mentioned.

Below are some of the topics that aired in:

Season 9 “True Life” (2006-2009)

  • "I'm Out"
  • "I'm in an Interfaith Relationship"
  • "I'm In Debt "I'm Dating Someone Older"
  • "I Have Autism external image truelifedrama.jpg
  • "I Self-Injure"
  • "I am Celibate
  • "I'm in a Long Distance Relationship"
  • "I'm Supporting My Family"
  • "I Stutter
  • "I'm Pregnant
  • "I Live In The Projects"
  • "I'm Going To Rehab
  • "I'm an Alcoholic"
  • "I'm in the Sex Industry"
  • "I Have Embarrassing Parents 2"
  • "I'm a Single Parent"
  • "I Live Off The Grid"
  • "I'm in a Love Triangle"
  • "I'm Addicted To Meds"
  • "I'm Placing My Baby for Adoption
  • "I'm Addicted to Porn

It doesn’t matter if we’re in the 1950’s or the 2000’s, the question, “Was the action that was carried out ethically or morally correct?” will always linger. Today, books also include topics that are about ethical and moral topics. I have read two books, both by Jodi Picoult, that deal with open-ended questions on tough subjects. The first book I read was, “My Sister’s Keeper.” This book is about a couple that has an ill child and decides to have another child in order to supply medical needs for their firstborn. The child who was born for medical reasons, Anna, files a lawsuit to achieve medical rights to her own body. This book makes its readers ponder the ethical correctness of having a child for medical use. Anna has had as many operations as her sick sister, and has never been the one to be sick. The second book that I read was called, “Handle With Care.” This story was about a couple that has a child with the disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta. This is a disease where the person afflicted with OI breaks many bones over their lifetime. The mother of this child is faced with the decision to file a Wrongful Birth Lawsuit and admit to a courtroom that she wished she never had her daughter. These books are both very controversial and push the line as to what is ethical and morally correct and what isn’t.

As you can see the idea of ethics and morality are everywhere today and were evident back in the 1950’s as well. The only change that has occurred, has been the way ethics and morality are perceived and the ease of discussion. Topics today just seem to be talked about more and easily. People are not as afraid today to appear a certain way to people whereas back in the 1950’s many issues were hidden. However, whether an act was ethic or unethical, is all up to the perspective to which it is looked at through.


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"True Life -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_Life.
"Morality and Ethics: An Introduction |." Chiroweb.com. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. http://www.chiroweb.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=46121.
"FATHER KNOWS BEST -." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=fatherknows.