The Literature of the Late Nineteenth Century
By the end of the Civil War (1861—1865), powerful forces had emerged that would dominate life in twentieth-century America. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had legally freed African Americans from nearly four centuries of bondage in America. The industrial North had triumphed over the agrarian South. From that victory came a society based on mass labor and mass consumption. Steam power began to replace water power, and machines driven by steam engines supplanted traditional hand labor in factories and on farms. In the 1770s, Thomas Jefferson had voiced the hope that the majority of Americans would never be "occupied at a work bench, for those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God." But after 1865, the United States ceased to be the white agrarian democracy that Jefferson had cherished. It became instead the most heavily industrialized nation in the world, and its people in ever-greater numbers ceased to "labor in the earth" and moved to towns and cities to labor on the machines of new industries.
The Effects of Industrialization
As industrialism spread, "the nature of labor changed. Machines displaced most of the hand labor previously required in manufacturing. Independent, skilled handcraftsmen became obsolete, unable to compete with machines operated by semiskilled laborers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And the machines, with their great cost and high efficiency, came to be seen, by mill owners and factory managers as far more valuable and useful than the workers who ran them. As a result, traditional relationships between employers and craftsmen weakened and grew more impersonal. In giant corporations that employed hundreds, even thousands, the workers no longer knew their customers, no longer even saw their, employers. Nonetheless, great numbers of men, women, and children–native-born and foreign-born-flocked to American cities, drawn by hopes for steady factory work and high factory pay.
In the cities–swollen with growing numbers of the poor and unskilled–great political change was taking place. As more people of the urban underclasses sought, and found, power at the polls, the centers of political power shifted. Traditional political alliances weakened and new political groups emerged, taking their power from, and proclaiming their devotion to, the laboring classes.
Amid the upheavals of the time, the art of political patronage and graft rose to new heights in the United States, causing the first grand age of American civic corruption. Confused voters, new to the ballot box, elected big-city bosses and their henchmen who flourished on kickbacks and fraud, boldly collected their boodle, and scoffed at the law. In six years, during the 1860s and 1870s, New York's "Boss" William Tweed and his "Tweed Ring" of municipal crooks cost the city of New York an estimated two hundred million dollars, equal to more than two billion dollars in the 1990s. And during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) the crimes of high federal officials were exposed in scandals then unequaled in the history of the United States. The actiotis of Grant in protecting his political cronies and ignoring their blatant misdeeds led many Americans to conclude that the president of the United States was himself a common thief. American government; at all leve1s, seemed overrun with rascals.
During the Civil War the power of the national government-dramatically expanded. For the first time federal authority intruded directly into the lives of the majority of the people. The war brought the first national conscription laws and marked the first time that federal-income taxes were levied. It also brought about the issuance of the first national currency-paper money backed by the federal government rather than by individual states and local banks. Rapid growth of federal power brought benefits and troubles. In 1865; the first official step toward nationwide racial-equality-was made when the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted, abolishing slavery within the United States; except as punishment for a crime. And the federal government used its powers to encourage business growth and the exploitation of natural resources, creating vast new wealth.
But great riches and economic power were, as always, concentrated in the hands of the few: bankers, and industrialists who touted the glories of "business and bustle," business luminaries who revered the virtues of self-help. The laudatory term "Captain of Industry” was coined in the 1880s as business and financial tycoons came for the first time to be celebrated as national heroes, as models for young men who hoped to rise in the world through luck and pluck. It was the beginning of what Mark Twain called "The Gilded Age," an age of extremes–of decline and progress, of poverty and wealth, of gloom and hope.
Mass Communication and Migration
In the last half of the nineteenth century, Americans ceased to be isolated from the world and from each other. Coast-to-coast, overland mail service began in 1858–a letter could be sent from St. Louis to San Francisco in as little as four weeks. In 1860, the Pony Express cut that time to ten and a half days. And within a year a message could be sent from New York to San Francisco in seconds, on the new telegraph line that spanned the nation in 1861. A transatlantic telegraph cable joined America and Europe in 1866. Ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention of the telephone. By 1900 the United States had 1,356,000 telephones–twice as many as all of Europe.
If the telegraph and the telephone helped to bring Americans closer together, the railroads finally “united" the United States. The first railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, began operation in 1830 with 13 miles of track. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed, linking the Atlantic and the Pacific. Five years later railroad mileage exceeded 74,000 miles, and the United States had the most extensive railroad system in the world. By 1889, the trip across the continent that had taken as much as five months by wagon during the Gold Rush of 1849 could now be made in trains (with Pullman sleepers and dining cars) in 108 hours–little more than four days.
With the building of the railroads came rapid commercial development. Vast new lands reached by rail lines were put under the plow, bringing enormous increases in farm products. The production of livestock and wheat doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled. New Yorkers could now eat beef shipped in newly invented refrigerator cars all the way from the slaughterhouses of Chicago; Floridians could buy inexpensive flour from mills in Minneapolis. Enterprising merchants like Richard Sears and Montgomery Ward created nationwide retail organizations that could undersell local shopkeepers. The clothing, household goods, and farm equipment once made locally by costly handwork were replaced by inexpensive, mass-produced goods made from standardized patterns in centralized factories. The nation was becoming a single giant marketplace, and retail stores that sold ready-made clothes and prepackaged foods began to resemble the stores of modern America, where the same goods, displayed in the same ways, are sold from one end of the land to the other. Indisputably, the coming of the railroads changed how Americans worked, where they lived, how they ate, how they dressed. In 1883, the railroads even changed the way Americans kept time when the more than fifty-six time zones in the United States were reduced to four to promote greater efficiency in scheduling railroad traffic.
As transportation became more convenient, better, and cheaper, the nation's people became increasingly mobile. In the last surge of westward expansion, mass numbers of Americans and immigrant Europeans, lured by the promise of free land, migrated to the Great Plains and the mountain states–extending the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Vast areas were no longer unknown and unexplored; by 1890, "the frontier"–the westward-moving line of settlement begun three hundred years before on the Atlantic Coast ceased to exist, although its influence would remain, shaping the life of the nation and inspiring legends, novels, and western movies by which the world would come to know America.
Westward expansion brought more land for white settlers and a broader material base for national power, but at great costs for some. The fabled "closing of the American frontier" brought the subjugation of Native American tribes and an institutionalized attack on their cultures, culminating projects that had begun in the seventeenth century among the colonizing powers. Following the U.S. Civil War, the cultures of America's plains Indians were especially vibrant, in part because they made productive use of horses, guns, tools, and other goods they had purchased in trade with Europeans since early contact. But the combined onslaught of a concerted U.S. war against them in the 1870s and 1880s, the ongoing ravages of smallpox, white hunters' mercenary destruction of the buffalo, and growing incursions fueled by white settlers' land hunger, gold fever and Indian-hating attitudes, succeeded in bringing once-proud and powerful Indian tribes into formal "submission" and onto reservations–often at a distance from their traditional lands–designated for them by the U.S. government.
The age that saw the final subjugation of the Indians and the ending of the frontier, was also an age of steel and steam, electricity and oil. From the Civil War to World War I, steel production in the United States increased more than six hundred times, and steelmaking became the nation's dominant industry. Alternating electrical current was introduced in 1886. Incandescent lamps illuminated the cities with electricity provided by giant, steam-driven dynamos. The tallow candles and whale-oil lamps of rural America were replaced by lanterns filled with inexpensive kerosene made from crude oil. The American petroleum industry began, and with it came the age of the automobile.
From 1870 to 1890, the total population of the United States doubled. Villages became towns, towns became cities, and cities grew to a size and with a speed that would have astonished the Founding Fathers. From 1860 to 1910, Philadelphia's population tripled, New York City's quadrupled, and Chicago's increased twenty times to 2 million; making it the nation's second-largest city.
As the population doubled, the national income quadrupled, and by the mid-1890s the United States could boast four thousand millionaires. The rich prospered mightily, and prodigious fortunes were piled up by industrial and banking magnates such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. Pierpont Morgan. The growth of big business and big industry also widened further the gulf between the rich and the poor, giving rise to reform movements and labor unions that voiced the grievances of debt-ridden farmers and immigrant workers who lived in city slums and labored in giant, impersonal factories.
Broadening Civil Rights
Following the Civil War, the Congress of the United States passed a stringent series of Reconstruction Acts to force its will upon the South and to protect black freedmen. Voting rights were established for black men, along with the right to testify in courts, to serve on juries, to own property, and to hold public office. But by 1877, with the end of Reconstruction and the withdrawal from the South of the last federal occupying troops, most of the newly won rights for blacks began to erode. Well before the end of the century, poll taxes and literacy tests were legalized and used to disqualify black voters. Separate and unequal schools and public facilities were created; legal rights were denied in both the North and the South. Thousands of black Americans were lynched in the last decades of the nineteenth century. White supremacy was firmly reestablished, and blacks were segregated to lives of poverty and indignity.
With the success of the abolitionist movement, white women continued to press for full political enfranchisement. Women entered the workforce in growing numbers, although many would only be able to find work performing menial tasks. When the doors of higher education finally opened to upper-class white women, many intended to improve their circumstances by attending the new all-female colleges, including Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. Even with these improvements, however, women would not gain the right to vote from the federal government until 1922.
Immigration dropped sharply during the Civil War, but after the 1880s a rising tide of foreigners, beckoned by the American promise of jobs and political freedom came to the New World at such a rate that by 1910 more than a third of the population of America's largest cities was foreign-born. Large-scale immigration and technical advancements in industry and agriculture increased the need for literacy, creating a demand for widespread public education. In the fifty years following the Civil War, the number of high schools in the United States increased thirty-five times. Higher education ceased to be a privilege limited to children of the well-to-do. Under the Morrill Act of 1862, millions of acres of federal land were given to the states for the establishment of public "land-grant" universities for "the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.”
Developing Cultural Ideals
Increased wealth, and the desire for its conspicuous display, gave rise to a gingerbread era of American design whose prime function was to attract attention. American millionaires built Gothic and Romanesque mansions and decorated them with towers, domes, columns, stained-glass windows, and ornamental gimcracks of wood and iron. Looking across the Atlantic for cultural guidance, they filled their rooms with imported European art, adopted European dress styles and manners, sent their sons to Europe for an education, eagerly married off their daughters to European noblemen (many of them impoverished, some of them bogus), attended theatrical productions in which British actors performed, and listened to music written by European composers. After 1865, a strong national tradition in painting began to develop, apparent in the work of such artists as Thomas Eakins, who realistically. Portrayed the America he saw around him and who urged his students "to remain in America, to peer deeper into the heart of American life." But numerous artists saw opportunity elsewhere and preferred to lead expatriate lives in Europe. Among them were the most renowned American painters of the period: James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. In a land of triumphant materialism, high culture had little impact on the mass of the people, who sought and found their entertainment in circuses, in vaudeville shows, in the new professional sports, and, after the 1890s, in motion-picture theaters named "nickelodeons" after their five-cent admission fee.
Literary Pursuits: Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, technical improvements in printing, lower costs for paper, and the rise of national corporations that could pour money into newspaper and magazine advertisements caused the growth of a great variety of low-cost, general-interest publications. From 1865 to 1905, the total number of periodicals published in the United States increased from about 700 to more than 6,000, all trying to satisfy the appetites of a vast new reading audience that was hungry for news articles, essays, fiction, and poems.
At this time, women became the nation's dominant cultural force and ladies' journalism began to flourish. In 1891, the Ladies Home Journal (founded in 1883) became the first American magazine with a circulation exceeding half a million; by 1905, its circulation had reached a full million. A new generation of women authors appeared whose poetry and fiction was published in popular ten-cent monthly and weekly magazines. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), had become an American institution and the most famous literary woman in the world. Other writers, including Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Louisa May Alcott published widely and achieved significant readerships as well.
Americans continued to read the works of Irving, Cooper, Hawthorne, and Poe, but by the 1870s, Hawthorne and Thoreau had died; Emerson, Lowell, Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier had passed their literary zeniths. Melville, living in obscurity, had ceased to publish his fiction. Only Whitman continued to offer a new literary vision to the world, issuing a fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in 1870 and publishing Democratic Vistas in 1871. As New England's cultural dominance waned, New York replaced Boston as the nation's literary center, drawing writers from New England, the South, and the West to the publishing houses and periodicals of the nation's largest city.
New writers appeared, among them Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, and Mark Twain, whose background and training, unlike those of the older generation they displaced, were middle-class and journalistic rather• than genteel or academic. Influenced by such Europeans as Zola, Flaubert, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy, America's new and noteworthy authors sought to portray American life as they saw it, insisting that the ordinary and the local were just as suitable for artistic portrayal as the magnificent and the remote.
As in most literary rebellions, the new literature rose out of the authors desire to renovate the literary theories of a previous age. The realists had what Henry James called "a powerful impulse to mirror the unmitigated realities of life." Earlier in the, nineteenth century, James Fenimore Cooper had insisted on the author's right to avoid representations of "squalid misery" and to present instead an idealized and "poetic" portrait of life. But by the end of the nineteenth century the realists, and the literary naturalists who followed them, had turned away from the portrayal of idealized characters and events. Instead, .they sought to describe the wide range of American experience and to present the subtleties of human personality, to portray characters who were neither all good nor all bad.
Realism had originated in France as réalisme, a literary doctrine that called for "reality and truth" in the depiction of ordinary life. Realism first appeared in the United States in the literature of local color, an amalgam of romantic plots and realistic descriptions of things immediately observable: the dialects, customs, sights, and sounds of regional America. Bret Harte in the 1860s was the first American writer of local color to achieve wide popularity. He presented stories about western mining towns populated by colorful gamblers, outlaws, and scandalous women. Thereafter editors–ever sensitive to public taste–demanded regional stories and tales of the life of America's Westerners, Southerners, and Easterners; writers such as Bret Harte, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Kate Chopin, Joel Chandler Harris, and Mark Twain provided them. Local-color fiction reached its peak of popularity in the 1880s.
The arbiter of nineteenth-century literary realism in America was William Dean Howells. He defined realism as "nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material," and he best, exemplified his theories in such novels as A Modern Instance (1882), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890). Howells spoke for a generation of writers who found their subject matter in the experiences of the American middle class, describing their home lives, jobs, social customs, successes, and failures. The bulk of America's literary realism was limited to optimistic treatment of the surface of life. Yet the greatest of America's realists, Henry James and Mark Twain, moved well beyond a surface portrayal of nineteenth-century America. James probed deeply into the individual psychology of his characters, writing in a rich and intricate style that supported his intense scrutiny of complex human experience. Twain, breaking out of the limits of local-color fiction, wrote Huckleberry Finn (1884). The book was highly praised, and although Twain engaged issues of race, slavery, and unexamined white privilege, he, like most white writers of this time, wrote from the ideological perspective of his own culture–a society where people of color rarely appeared and were always subordinate. The suffering and oppression of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese immigrants, and others were invisible in most white literary production. Readers had to look to the works of writers like Zitkala-Sa (Lakota Sioux), Sui Sin Far, Ida B. Wells-Barnet, Charles Chesnutt, and Frances E. W. Harper for reflections of the lives of Americans of color.
In the 1880s, Howells spoke out against the writing of a bleak fiction of failure and despair. He called for the treatment of the "smiling aspects of life" as being the more "American," insisting that America was truly a land of hope and of possibility that should be reflected in its literature. But at the end of the century came a generation of writers whose ideas of the workings of the universe and whose perception of society's disorders led them to naturalism, a new and harsher realism. America's literary naturalists scorned the idea that literature should present comforting moral truths. Instead, naturalist writers attempted to achieve extreme objectivity and frankness, presenting characters of low social and economic classes who were dominated by their environment and heredity. Naturalists emphasized that the world was amoral, that men and women had no free will, that their lives were controlled by heredity and the environment, that religious "truths" were illusory, that the destiny of humanity was misery in life and oblivion in death.
Naturalism, like realism, had come from Europe. In America it had been shaped by the Civil War, and by the teachings of Charles Darwin. Darwinism suggested that people are dominated by the irresistible forces of evolution. The pessimism and deterministic ideas of naturalism pervaded the works of such writers as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, Henry Adams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Theodore Dreiser. They wrote detailed descriptions of the lives of the downtrodden; they offered frank treatment of human passion and sexuality; they portrayed men and women overwhelmed by the blind forces of nature–all of which had a powerful influence on modern writers.
Realism and naturalism remained popular with writers at the turn of the century. Writers of the early 1900s, including Edwin Arlington Robinson, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, and William Faulkner, achieved great success by depicting a "real" America and celebrating what they perceived to be commonplace truths of a new land and a new people. As the twentieth century progressed, these voices would be heard among others, including those of American blacks and other marginalized peoples, in mainstream America.
Definitions:Subjugation - forced submission to control by others; // oppression: the act of subjugating by cruelty; "the tyrant's oppression of the people"; // conquest: the act of conquering; // The act of subjugating or the state of being subjugated; forced control by others; // subjugate - repress: put down by force or intimidation; "The government quashes any attempt of an uprising"; "China keeps down her dissidents very efficiently"; "The rich landowners subjugated the peasants working the land" ; // subjugate - make subservient; force to submit or subdue; // subjugated - reduced to submission; "subjugated peoples"; // subjugate - To forcibly impose obedience or servitude; //
Supplanted - take the place or move into the position of; "Smith replaced Miller as CEO after Miller left"; "the computer has supplanted the slide rule"; "Mary replaced Susan as the team's captain and the highest-ranked player in the school"; // Supplanting - act of taking the place of another especially using underhanded tactics; // Supplant - to replace, to take the place of, to supersede; to uproot, to remove violently; // Supplantation - replacement by reason of demonstrated superiority; // Supplanting - is to deliberately reduce State or local funds because of the existence of Federal funds. For example, when State funds are appropriated for a stated purpose and Federal funds are awarded for that same purpose, the State replaces its State funds with Federal funds, thereby reducing the total...; // Supplant - Relative to water supply, to replace or to add reused or reclaimed water to the water supply system. A conservation measure to prevent waste. surface casing: In water wells. …
Enfranchisement - freedom from political subjugation or servitude; // Franchise: a statutory right or privilege granted to a person or group by a government (especially the rights of citizenship and the right to vote); // Certification: the act of certifying or bestowing a franchise on…
Gimcracks (“Ornamental Gimcracks of wood and iron”) - •gimcrack - folderal: ornamental objects of no great value; // gimcrack - brassy: tastelessly showy; "a flash car"; "a flashy ring"; "garish colors"; "a gaudy costume"; "loud sport shirts"; "a meretricious yet stylish book"; "tawdry ornaments"
Amoral •being neither moral nor immoral; not believing in or caring for morality and immorality; // Amorally - immorally: without regard for morality; "he acted immorally when his own interests were at stake"; // Amorality - the quality of being amoral; // Amorally - Amoralism is the complete absence of moral beliefs, and/or the unequivocal belief that the theory of morality is immaterial.