Dec 12, 2019 in Literature

The Gilded Age

Mark Twain had little yet to know that his book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today would have gained extreme popularity since its publication. Impressed by what the author in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner viewed as uncontrolled greed and speculation in the market, and corruption affecting political authorities’ performance, they satirized the whole society, whose grave problems, as they imagined, were hiding under a thin layer of gold. The Gilded Age, as the proper name and synonym to material, corrupted, and greedy world, was the reflection of the post-civil war society in the US as well as the world of nowadays.

Modern society has faced no significant difference with few improvements regarding the gap between the rich and the poor, where the Rich are giant corporations and the Poor are working people. The ‘gilded effect’ that once Twain saw is the exposure of the wealth glittering upon the workforce with many factors that multiplied their misfortune. The golden layer involved not only corporations themselves, but the corrupted politicians backed by these corporations. The political machine became a corrupted part of the complicated mechanism of powerful organizations. Senator Dilworthy attempted to get the lands of Hawkins by claiming to build the university for the African Americans. His shameless desire to buy votes was unsuccessful emphasizing the author’s wish to show the triumph of justice and the failure of vicious intentions. However, what happened under the mask of wealthy life is the people who were making that mechanism going with their hands at the cost of own health and even life. Employed people worked long shifts in potentially dangerous conditions earning only for survival. Moreover, farming was the second area where people suffered in a great way. With vast railroad infrastructure and innovative technologies, the American market changed alongside. Mass production and transporting created obstacles for simple people who could not compete with giants and enormous investments. Farmers failed as the prices for their production fell making them unsuccessful rivals.


On the one hand, “no country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law, and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more”. On the other hand, simple people, workers, and farmers in all aspects had no power to change the situation in the swamp of money, politics, and economy. The temptation to win the part of wealth shows the social change on the example of Philip Sterling. Even the authors do not see his fault and write about his loss of profession in the search of his el dorado, “he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old”. The authors managed to develop the character into the stages from the fever of having money without actually working to a long way of education and hard work to gain the desired wealth. Laura Hawkins also followed her ambitious aspirations, however with no luck. Her life route ends in a dramatic way proving again that “the moral cure [...] depends on returning women and men to an order founded [...] on work”. What first looked tempting appeared to be false in both cases. The shine of the prosperity of the nation as a whole hid numerous problems that Twain characterized as the Gilded Age depicted on the level of the country as well as the level of the personal tragedy. 

Another tragedy is the suppression of the native inhabitants. The era of industrialization and transportation became a direct threat to Indians. The understanding of the role of the Indians on the lands of the new state gradually changed. Initially, the policy regarding the native people coincided with the one of the European’s. However, having the people as “self-governing, independent political communities with varying cultural identities” became uncomfortable to take into consideration. The media was the following stage of the strategy of the changes that the government implemented. Originally, friendly and hospitable Indians appeared as slaughterers who murdered white travelers. Later, the US government became imaginative in the attempts to fulfill the hunger for wealth. The Dawes Act, 1887, was the form of a ‘divide et empera’ strategy saying that Native Americans may have the own land and the American citizenship on the condition of leaving the reservation and tribe. More than 350 000 of Native Americans previously had lived in the Great Plains as families and communities. 

The fact that the settlers who had enough power to overgrow into the wealthy and influential called the Unites States of America is to a certain degree the result of the Manifest Destiny. The term originates from the journalist John O’Sullivan and initially referred to the plan to annex the territory of Texas. Robert McNamara, 19th Century History Expert, states that the US literally “possessed a right granted by God to take territory in the West and install its values and system of government”. However, the question of the cause-effect influence of the expansion and manifest destiny is practically assured. The author has no doubts that all strategically sophisticated movements of the politicians were “simply putting pseudo-religious polish on blatant avarice and conquest”. The controversial goal of Manifest Destiny broadly employed by President James K. Polk reveals the true face of the manifest. The president’s slogan in his presidential campaign “Fifty-four forty of fight” meant that the geographical location of the border where the US and the British territories met. His intention to expand the territories was open and met criticism, especially preceding the Mexican War. Frederick and Lois Merk in their book Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History “The thesis that it [Manifest Destiny] embodied nationalism, found in much historical writing, is backed by little real supporting evidence”. 

All in all, the Gilded Age has put positive achievements and multiple failures on the scales of that era. Manifest Destiny could initially beacon the right mission emphasising the aspiration to expand and build the strongest nation and society in the world. However, the ill nature of people who stood behind the steering wheel of the big state mechanism had a different vision from the one that the idealists had. The vast opportunities brought about by means of inventions and industrialisation could serve for a good cause of all the American people. Railroads connected the furthest edges of the country causing the industrial boom. Meanwhile, the uphill battle of the farmers with corporations and the workers with corporations undermined the whole ideology of the American society. The greed of the giant companies to get the biggest income blinded their owners by the shine of the lucre; while the workforce had to suffer, survive, and stand up for their rights. The same shine penetrated into the political mechanism as an additive leverage to lobby the interests of corporations. A once big continent somehow became very small for different nations to live together. New-states-to-be could not oppose to the ‘God-given right’ for the Americans to annex the territories, deceive, and kill to expand and prosper. The ones who dared to oppose faced a wide range of peaceful and military strategic wiles to some extent veiled by Manifest Destiny. In fact, the golden shine of the wealth corrupted and poisoned the heart and mind of the people plating numerous problems of the American society with the upper layer of prosperity, development, and innovations. The post-Civil War Gilded Age is still relevant as the struggle between the people and corporations backed by government goes on.


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