A typical American suburban home is made up of three parts: house, backyard, and front lawn. An imaginary line runs through the middle, to one side of which is nature and community, to the other side splendor and society. Kitchen, located at the back of the house, caters to bodily needs. But it is also a center of communal warmth. Guests linger here, children run in and out, begging for a taste of the pie. Kitchen spills over into backyard, especially in summer. Family members, friends, and neighbors gather around the barbecue grill to chat, eat, and, after eating, perhaps sing. There pervades an air of good fellowship and informality. How can it be otherwise when one’s fingers are gooey with barbecue sauce? Further out is the vegetable garden. No flowers grow there-at least, nothing fanciful. The politics on this side of the home is communal and egalitarian, its ideal one of organic wholeness and wholesomeness, of human contentment nurtured by intimate contact with people, growing things, soil and earth.
To the other side-the front side-of my imaginary line are the more
formal spaces of living. Residents dress up to perform their roles. Everyone’s social standing is more on display. Young children are excluded, or made to behave like adults. Low-status people (salesman, maid, and plumber) penetrate the line when their work requires it, by way of the back door. A lawn with parterres of flowers spreads before the house, its size a measure of the family’s wealth and power. Life and its settings bespeak discipline, and discipline is indicative of a pretension to higher states of being. The body is disciplined by its encasement in glamorous but uncomfortable clothes. External nature is disciplined: weather is left to rage outside the house, while inside warmth rises from heat ducts, and smart conversation flows over a polished table. The lawn and its flower beds are geometrically arranged, a piece of regimented nature to be seen rather than used. From the upper floor’s front window, the owner of the house commands a view-one that extends beyond his own lawn to other people’s lawns.
The word “landscape” applies to the home from three points of view.