Literature 1865-1912 Essay

There were many social forces that influenced literature from 1865 to 1912. The most relevant social force was the growing divide in economic and social status. Numerous events occurred during this period that influenced the divide. One of the first and possibly the most influential, the Civil War. According to Reesman and Krupat (2008): The Civil War, which began in 1861 and lasted for four years, was the ultimate result of economic, political, social, and cultural divisions between the North and South – above all the division between an economy and a way of life based on wage labor and one based on slavery (pg. ). Following the Civil War there were many changes happening throughout the country. Not only was the country recovering from the money lost because of the war, but also many families were grieving the loss of loved ones as well as trying to reestablish their homesteads. Following the war the rich kept getting richer and the poor continued to struggle and grow poorer or deeper in debt. The railroad was making vast expansions toward the West that was a pro and a con to rural farmers.

The farmers needed the railroad to expand to transport their goods, but at the same time farmers were suffering because the railroad was claiming so much of the land they needed to produce their crops and raise their animals (Reesman & Krupat, 2008, pg. 3). The railroad expansion was led by four main railroads that shut out others from the expansion. The Homestead Act of 1862 was created to enable people to get free or cheap acreages. Every individual or family was promised an acreage who would not only settle, but also improve the land according to the government’s regulations.

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However, most of the land that was available was donated to ailroads to continue the expansion and continue growth West. It is estimated that only 10% of the land available through the Homestead Act was claimed by individuals or families that wanted to settle, begin farming, or expand their current farms (Reesman & Krupat, 2008, pg. 3). The railroad was not the only business that was prospering at the expense of smaller companies. Steel, oil, meat packing, banking, and finance were being monopolized, which forced all the small business to join to monopoly or to fail as a business (Reesman & Krupat, 2008, pg. 2). Jay Gould, Jim Hill, Leland Stanford, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller were among the men who succeeded in forcing the small businesses to monopolize.

According to Reese and Krupat (2008), these men were: Robber barons to some, captains of industry to others, these men successfully squeezed out competitors and accumulated vast wealth and power, social, political, and economic; whereas there had been only a handful on millionaires before the Civil War, after the war there were hundreds. They formed a class whose wealth and styles of life associated with what sociologies Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” had not been seen before in American life (pg. ). “The transformation of an entire continent involved suffering for millions even as others prospered” (Reese & Krupat, 2008, pg. 3). Following the Civil War many southerners were upset by the outcome. They did not believe it was right that slaves were considered free people. They continued to treat African Americans the same way they always had and the racism continued as well, if not more so. Mark Twain brought this subject to light with his book “Huckleberry Finn. ” Even though this book was written 20 years after the end of the Civil War, it undoubtedly shows the obstacles people were still facing and struggling with.

This book is about a relationship that develops between Huck, a 13 year-old boy, and Jim, a runaway slave. Even though Huck is from a poor dysfuntional family, in the beginning he believes he is “better” than Jim, who is only a slave. Before Jim is introduced Huck inherits money and his father returns. Huck fakes his own death to get away from his abusive, drunk father. He soon runs into Jim, a slave that says he ran away because he heard his owner talk of selling him. Through this adventure Huck continues to struggle with what he always has believed about African American slaves and what he is currently believing about Jim.

The pair come across a pair of con-artist that which is another reference to the economic struggles of the times. Soon, Huck discovers it is all a game set up by Tom, and Jim actually has been a free man all along. In the end, Huck announces he will be moving out West for a better future (Rees & Krupat, 2008, pg. 101-287) W. D. Howells published “Editha” during this same time period. However different the story may be, it is directly related to the fallout of the Civil War. Editha is a young woman who convinces her lover, George, to join the war.

She does this in hopes of raising her social status (Reese & Krupat, 2008, pg. 289-299). The character of Editha is self-centered and only thinking of her own gain. Once again this relates to the fact that social status and money were continuing to be a major factors of this time period. Theodore Dreiser, wrote “From Sister Carrie” in 1900 (Reese & Krupat, 2008, pg. 585). It is the story of Carrie Meeber, a poor country girl, and her journey to become a famous actress as well as George Hurstwood, who was upper middle class, but soon loses everything and is living on the streets.

After Carrie leaves Wisconsin and moves to Chicago, she meets George, who is married and running a saloon at the time. After George steals money from the saloon the couple go to New York, where Carrie becomes very successful, whereas George becomes homeless. The couple splits up and George commits suicide (Reese & Krupat, 2008, pg. 587-601). Even though this couples money issues happened more on timing and fate, it is still an example of the difference and rapidly changing social and economic status changes in people’s lives of this time period.

Before the time period of 1865-1912 the literature had been of the “traditional” form. Not only was the nation changing rapidly, but also the literature was as well. Authors like Twain, James, and Dreiser were some of the first authors to write in realistic form. Realism is writing about what was happening to real people at that time. Many people were skeptical of this form of writing and some of the books were banned as a result. Naturalism is a more detailed form of realism. It focuses more on the subjects and its direct surroundings.

Twain, James, and Dreiser were very effective in encouraging the change from the romance era to realism and naturalism. Major changes were taking place across the nation, and the people were realizing that not everything was going to work out perfectly. They wanted to hear stories about characters dealing with some of the same obstacles that they themselves were dealing with. The citizens wanted what was real.

References

Reesman, J. , & Krupat, A. (2008). The norton anthology: American literature . (7th ed. , Vol. 2 p. 3). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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