The United States has always professed itself to be the “land of the free. ” In fact, most of its traditions are rooted in its value for freedom, family and country. How often is it in public speeches that we are reminded that “all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ” Literary pieces produced between the years of 1865 and 1912 show a growing awareness and search for understanding of civil rights and democracy.
Uniqueness and personal individuality and perspective were reflected in the writing styles and stories that appeared during this time. Nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson’s poems in “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” reflect her views and awareness of the role of women in a patriarchal and free society. Indeed her writings could very well be considered ‘feminist. ‘ Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass’ was representative of an America that was alive, rich and natural.
He states: “The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States is essentially the greatest poem” (Whitman, 1855) Yet while his views were generally “romantic” in nature, his demonstrates a keen awareness social issues such as the growing materialism brought about by industrialism. He called for literature that would bind the readers in a more spiritual and imaginative state as individuals in his “Democratic Vistas” (1871. ) American Literature saw the birth of awareness and definition of freedom.
Freedom was then too general a concept yet the literary products in this period showed the emergence of expressions for individuality against convention, true liberty, and pride in identity. American Literature 2 2. GENDER AND ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE ECONOMIC AND LITERARY DEVELOPMENT IN 1865-1912 Literature has been used as an expression of freedom of thought, feelings, and ideals. It has also been used as a tool of social awareness and activism that meant to inspire reform particularly in
the disparity experienced by women and ethnic minorities in that era. As the industrial age prepared to take root in the United States, ethnic minorities like the Native Americans, Africans and Asians, and other ethnic groups grew more marginalized in existence. Africans became slaves who were made to work in the tobacco and cotton fields. Others were pressed into domestic servitude in the homes of the wealthy White men. Literature at in reference to women and the ethnic minorities viewed them as objects that “White men” own.
This dehumanization served as a sort of “muse” for the emerging “realist” writers. If popular literature referred to them as non-entities, the realists raised their plight up as a sign for the need for social awareness and change. In her “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” essayist and on of America’s first respected female journalists Margaret Fuller, brought up the existence of sexual discrimination and suggested steps in an effort to promote the independence of women. She was an advocate of equality gained through human freedom and dignity.
Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” defied conventions and spoke out against the practice of slavery and the irrationality of “civilized” society. The friendship of his lead characters Jim and Huck went beyond the strictures of a slave-owning society and culminated in something that was happy and generous. Emancipation of women, abolishment of racism, marginalization and slavery according to the realist writers, were what should define American freedom, humanity and democracy…not the materialism and human ownership brought by industrialization.
“The Romantic Period, 1820-1860, Essayists and Poets”. Outline of American Literature. United States International Information Programs (2006) Retrieved August 29, 2007 from http://usinfo. state. gov/products/pubs/oal/lit3. htm “The Rise of Realism: 1860-1914”. Outline of American Literature. United States International Information Programs (2006) Retrieved August 29, 2007 from http://usinfo. state. gov/products/pubs/oal/lit5. htm