The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Warner Essay
The Gilded Age is the period in American history including the 1865-1901 years, during which the country experienced unprecedented economic growth. The name of the era was derived from the novel of the same name authored by Mark Twain and Charles Warner. The imagery of this era presented in the novel reflects many of the events and tendencies developing in that time inspired by the values of the Gilded Age.
I feel that one of the events introduced in that era illustrating the Twain’s imagery of the Gilded Age was the evolvement and fast spreading of the popularity of social Darwinism. Twain portrays the society of those times like the one that is highly materialistic and wealth-determined, and the popularization of social Darwinism directly reflects the spirit of acquisition that dominated American society of those times and was criticized by Twain and Warner. Such events as monopolization of oil industry by Rockefeller and steel industry by Carnegie and the concentration of enormous wealth in the hands of several people illustrate the spirit of acquisition of the Gilded Age and another feature of that era described by Twain – the corrupted partnership between businessmen and government.
The land speculation explored by Twain and Warner as one of the typical features of the Gilded Age can be illustrated by the Dawes Act, which had severe negative consequences for the Indian population of the U.S. While the Act was proclaimed to be determined to encouraging the assimilation of Native Americans and private native land ownership, it, in fact, served for satisfying the white settlers’ appetites for land (James, 2008). The government, encouraged by the “corrupt interplay of business and politics” described by Twain, did not only speculate on land to open it to white settlement by white Americans, but also significantly damaged the unity and culture of Indian people who were forced to abandon their tradition of communal holding of property (Roark, Johnson, Cohen, Stage, & Hartmann, 2012, p. 522).
Opportunities in mining and trade out West were greatly impacted by values of the Gilded Age relying on certain beliefs. As the values of that era were based on the assumption that wealth is a sign of virtue, and, therefore, wealthy people and nations are superior to others, such belief inspired millions of people to move to the West and become the part of the mining industry after the discovery of gold, silver, and other precious metals in that part of the country. The material ambitions converted the region into the source of mining and trade opportunities and “clashed with Native Americans ways” resulting in disaster for Indians (Roark et al., 2012, p. 505). The “crooked partnership of business and politics” described by Twain became the tool enabling businessmen eager to make a fortune on mining to ignore and abuse the rights of the native population of the West due to the support of the government (Roark et al., 2012, p. 521). This fact illustrates how the Gilded Age materialistic values and the interplay between business and politics influenced the development of mining and trade industries in the West.
The values dominating during the Gilded Age were directly interrelated with the Manifest of Destiny, which inspired Americans to believe that they had an obvious right to expand the nation to the West. The belief that wealth gives the right to consider someone superior to others encouraged many Americans to believe that as their nation is one of the wealthiest in the world, it has the right to remake the West. Besides, the land speculations, which were another typical feature of the Gilded Age, also directly impacted the Manifest of Destiny, as they enabled the population from the East to acquire the lands that had belonged to other nations.
The values of the Gilded Age described by Twain and Warner, materialism, and government corruption, in particular, were reflected in numerous tendencies and events that occurred in the U.S. during that era.
James, E. (2008). The allotment period on the Nez Perce reservation. In R. Nichols (Ed.), The American Indian: Past and present (pp. 227-241). Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.
Roark, J., Johnson, M., Cohen, P., Stage, S., & Hartmann, S. (2012). The American promise: A history of the United States (5th ed). Boston, Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
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