2HISTORICAL bACKGROUND During these years, the US changed from a decentralized, mostly agricultural nation to the modern industrial nation we know today.North – commerce ruled; South – cotton was “king”Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required all citizens – of free states as well as slave states – to help catch runaway slaves.
3The expansion of slavery into the West was a hotly contested topic The expansion of slavery into the West was a hotly contested topic. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the armed slave revolt at Harper’s Ferry led by John Brown – which led to his being executed for treason - both fed the controversy as well.With Abraham Lincoln’s being elected in 1860 and his intentions to end slavery, many southern states threatened to secede. In February 1861, the secessionist states established the Confederate States of America.
4Homestead Act of 1862 promised 160 acres to anyone who would live on the land for a certain period and make minimal improvements to it.
5By 1890, the frontier as Americans had come to know it for centuries had ceased to exist. The legacy of the frontier lived on in larger-than-life heroes like Pecos Bill, tall tales, legends, and songs. The 1880’s marked a second Industrial Revolution – electricity replaced steam power and pollution, noise, traffic jams, and crime began to become a part of city life.
6The population grew in leaps and bounds – from just over 50 million in 1880 to just under 76 million at the turn of the century. A significant portion of this increase came from the more than 9 million immigrants who came to the US during this twenty- year period.
7Literature of the period Mark Twain dubbed this period “The Gilded Age” – which implied a thin veneer (layer) of glitter over something of poor quality.The desire for changes erupted out of the female, African American, and working class populations during this time, many of whom were hardly better off in 1914 than they were in 1850.Many African Americans expressed themselves with spirituals during this time. Some, like Frederick Douglass, used oratory (speeches) and were published authors – he published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, in 1845.Letters, diaries, and journals of everyone from military generals to the wives of officers were also among the literary output of this time.
8One of the greatest masters of the language during this time was undoubtedly Abraham Lincoln. “His Gettysburg Address, only ten sentences in length, has become a classic expression of the meaning of American democracy.”The harsh realities of life and artists’ reactions to the Civil War led to a new literary movement – Realism. It came about after the Civil War and had writers turning their backs on Romanticism and focusing instead on portraying “real life” as ordinary people lived it and attempting to show characters and events in an honest and objective manner.An important literary offshoot of Realism was Naturalism. It also discussed the lives of ordinary people, but focused more on forces larger than the individual – nature, fate, heredity – that Naturalists believed shaped individual destiny. Jack London often used harsh environments such as Alaska as settings for his stories in order to do this.
9Overall, by 1914, the US had gone from a place of idealism to one that was much more pragmatic (realistic), and writers reflected this change.