Changing something always means to refuse from the obsolete or sometimes to lose the usual in order to find the truth. The history of every great nation has known both significant changes and big losses. Years, decades, and centuries were passing with the hope on the side. The formation of the United States as a powerful state needed time and considerable efforts to be finally accomplished. The Civil War was a period of struggle for the denomination. When it ended, the new age began the one that Mark Twain tartly called the Gilded Age. This aristocracy was “fast,” and not averse to ostentation (Twain and Warner 295). It was the period of the ambitious dreams, perspectives, growth, and wealth, but it appeared to be still the Gilded Age, not the Golden one. The country strongly needed equality and union instead of the division by race, gender, and class, which was hard to ignore.
The Gilded Age
Being the king of satire and the master of the best-suited metaphor, Mark Twain could not help using one of them to coin the last thirty years of the nineteenth century as the Gilded Age. It was the age of economic breakthrough, money, and endless hopes. It was similar to Larson’s fair: The fair was so perfect, its grace and beauty like an assurance that for as long as it lasted nothing truly bad could happen to anyone, anywhere (289).
This notion was not only meant to name the historical period but also was interpreting the reality of the particular time and place. According to Roediger, Until the 1860s, the United States was not only a rapidly expanding nation but also a slave-holding republic (21). In fact, the Civil War changed much. However, the most important changes were still on the way. The habits, way of thinking, and attitude that identified the main behavioral patterns of white America needed to be seriously reconsidered. Even though the slavery was now abolished and the Proclamation that promised Peace and Tranquility was signed, it did not stop people from cherishing their prejudices and kept dividing America on us and them. The end of the war is always a symbol of the brand new start of something good, pure, and light that has to come immediately. Unfortunately, the reality is not always that supple and compliant. The signed Proclamation did not erase the memory of the whole nation; it just established new rules. However, it is not a secret that rules can always be changed in favor of those who have the power. In the novel The Gilded Age, Mark Twain displayed the situation of the time: Men who held positions in both the executive and legislative branches of the government … were people who were beyond reproach, and that was sufficient (311).
The Gilded Age is considered one of the most dynamic, controversial, and unstable periods of American history. It was marked by a considerable and fast economic growth as well as a serious social conflict. The slavery was abolished on paper, but the changing of the attitude towards the black issue would have needed so much more time. Roediger writes that in order to put further distance between the despised black worker and the emerging white employed man, new terms for servant – such as ‘help’ or ‘hired hand’ – became current (22). It was almost impossible to become tolerant at once. It can take years and years, and for someone, it takes forever. The Gilded Age was a time when the term boss enriched the language of the American society. In order to dispose of the similar notion master that had a strong association with slavery, the Dutch equivalent took its place. However, it was much easier to make changes on the linguistic level rather than on the social one. Roediger states that By the 1860s the process that had reduced nearly one-half of the non-slave-labor force to wage dependence… ( 22). The fast economic growth was due to the major wave of the labor force coming also from the outside of the USA. People were willing to work and make money and were full of hopes and enthusiasm to build the new and prosper future. However, even hidden behind the social organizations and initiatives, the difference between an idealized white worker and a pitied or scorned servile black worker was still there (Roediger 21).
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The construction of the railroades gathered thousands of people around this enterprise. This chasing-money rush helped to create many opportunities for the entrepreneurs and workers, however, in the different ways. Mark Twain found an interesting angle to portray the real face of the getting-money-and-respect process: Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in it than did official position (295).
The corruption of the Gilded Age was not surprising anymore. The ironic view of the writers seems to give to the society the evaluation that is far from being funny. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to a place in it (Twain and Warner 295). The revolution in running business was making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The new model of the corporate economy, industrial progress, and free-market led to the growing disparity between the Rockefellers’ type and the working class. The labor unions that were becoming more and more numerous and active still were not able to protect the rights of the working people. The law was not respected that much. Thus, money became the new kind of power that could find its adherents everywhere. In the novel The Gilded Age, it is clearly stated that people were not afraid or ashamed of using it. The characters are open to this kind of deal, saying, To be sure you can buy now and then a Senator or a Representative (Twain and Warner 328). Getting money in any available way became the main symptom of the society that was sick with greed. The money was buying power, and the power was making money.
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Despite all the changes, America was still the place where men had all, and women were just trying to improve their status and make others hear their voices. Womens fight for their rights started to gather momentum. As a result, women even got their right to vote on the elections in some of the western American states. Nevertheless, they were still concerned about surviving in this mens world. Laura Hawkins, the main female character of The Gilded Age was seriously preoccupied as well: She had also recognized … men supposed to be exceptionally cultivated and able, she would need more than mere brilliant “society” nothings (312).
As one can see, the woman at the time was not only worried about being not smart and intelligent enough, but was sure that every man was much more able, cultivated, and refined by default just because he was a man. It is safe to say that every man and every woman wanted to become someone significant while the moment was there. The period of the Gilded Age was like a fair where everyone wanted to get. Like Larson says in his book, The fair had become so intensively compelling that one woman…walked thirteen hundred miles along the railroad tracks to reach it (282).
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The Gilded Age is a metaphor that could not be better played. It was far from being golden, but still seemed to be very appealing. Life appeared to be changing for the better so quickly and inevitably that people did not want to notice its other side. Poverty, social inequality, and prejudices were the attributes of the new life for the most of people there. The Gilded Age did not eliminate the division; it just tried to cover it with the tolerance powder.