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Civil War Post Civil War



Civil War/Post-Civil War Period (1861-1900)

o          Epoch of dynamic change in American life and in literature.  America developed potential as the most resourceful industrial powerhouse in the world and moved toward becoming a genuine leader of world affairs.  America moved from being a rural civilization to being an industrial one.  As a result, many social and political problems arose and had to be dealt with.

o          As a whole the period just after the war was a time of expansion of new lands and new wealth.  This expansion of land and wealth resulted in the growth of economic atrocities to which people gave little attention:  labor unrest, corrupting influences upon politics, exploitation of economy, widened gulf between the rich and the poor.  Fewer people were interested in reform.  They were more concerned with the growth of industry and commerce and the accumulation of wealth.

o          Natural resources (and human resources) were exploited in the name of progress.

o          Literature became more realistic.

o          Period called the “Age of the Robber Barons,” the “Great Barbeque,” and the “Gilded Age.”

o          Mark Twain named the period the “Guilded Age” because of the gaudy materialism of the time.

o          Literature moved from realism to naturalism.

o          Naturalism—writing that depicts the ugly side of life.  Says that man has no control over his destiny; he is controlled by heredity or by environment.

o          Realism—writing about life as it really is.  No sentimentality.


Naturalism—Writing based upon scientific investigation and theory. Naturalism represents laws of the individual and society as fixed as those of science.  Heredity and environment determine what a person becomes.  Writers must study a character’s inherited traits and the social conditions in which the character lives.  Naturalism also depicts the sordid side of life.  It shows characters who are severely, if not hopelessly, limited by environment or heredity or both environment and heredity.  Man cannot make moral choices.  He is driven by most basic urges and is often a brutal man and a failure.  His language is coarse, his view of life is hopeless, and his mood is one of depression.  “Survival of the fittest” is also a theme of many naturalist writers.  Jack London’s works are a good example of this king of writing.


Works of our best naturalist writers have a tone of compassion and admiration for those who stand against overwhelming odds.  Theodore Dreiser is considered America’s best naturalist writer.