The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age

The gilded age by Mark Twain is a book that was written in the last decade of the 19th century. The book is satirical novel about the materialism and the corruption that was there in the 1870s to the 1900.  These two concepts are a reflection of his adolescent years in Hannibal (Twain et al, 1). The term gilded means something that looks like gold on the outside but in the inside, it is just metal.  Twain thought that America at the moment was just like a gilded object. At this time, the rich were fascinated by the wealth and progress that the US was going through while in reality the poverty levels and injustice levels were really high at the same time.

The thesis statement of the essay is that the gilded age was a not a golden era but a period that was filled by many unresolved problems. The problems ranged from social to political problems. Scholars perceive this period as a period full of legacies like the civil war and the Reconstruction that were crucial contributors of the transformation and development of the last three decades of the 19th century. This era was marked with great economic growth but high social conflicts. The political arena especially the congress and the judiciary paved way for this developments.

A new class of the rich emerged, the rich portrayed pretentious displays of wealth while at the time oppressed workers tried to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions at the factories (Cassettari, 483). During this time, there were political changes that paved way for the change that occurred in the 1870s to 1890s. The congressional laws that were put in place paved way for the changes. For example, the Homestead Act of 1862, the Stone and Timber Land Act of 1878, these acts among others led to the transfer of large tracts of land, raw materials and resources to be transferred into the ownership of land development, railroads companies, cattlemen and mining companies (Cassettari, 490 ).

The constitutional change also paved way for the change that occurred during this time. The Supreme Court did away with most of the state laws that restricted interstate commerce around 1875 to 1900. This move also blocked federal attempts to regulation. To improve this situation, the Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887 but since the court had more power, the commission did not stand for long. These legal changes created a political atmosphere that the forces of social changes opened up to.

American industrial economy exploded during this period, due to the Acts that were enforced, industries and individuals had opportunities to build great fortune for themselves. This was not the case for all, as most farmers and laborers were struggling to make a living and they were merely making it. The economy greatly improved more than a five-gold although there was a very big gap between the rich and the poor. Those that were considered industrial giants brought in a new era of modern economy but at the same time, completely destroyed that free-market trade and industry competition (Cassettari, 484).

To prove the height of the gap between the poor and the rich, a good example is the great depression of the 19th century. In 1877, the railroad workers in Baltimore and Ohio started a strike. Within a short while, the strike had spread to most states. Federal troops were sent out to deal with the railroad worker but this did not help but rather aggravated the situation as other workers joined the railroad workers (Cassettari, 483). At this juncture, the economy of the country had come to a standstill as companies and manufacturers had closed down and the banks could not even lend money (Cassettari, 483).

The acts that were put into place opened up the west. This allowed people to move in and settle in the land; the natives were displaced during this era. There was a big bang on the social aspect of the United States. The biggest social change was that of classes. Although most Americans held that the issue of class was not to exist in the US as it existed in Europe, it was quite noticeable that classes did exist (Cassettari, 493). The class gap between the poor and the rich was very big that at that time, it was the topic of the day at that time. During the supposed golden era, the wealth owned by 4000 richest families was almost the nation’s wealth tripled (Cassettari, 493).

Twain reflected the US as the gilded age in quite a number of ways; firstly, the growing rapidly growing economy was a gilded age reflection. Generally, the economy grew very fast and individuals were getting richer each passing day. On the other hand, the farmers and the workers were getting poorer and no one was willing to come to their rescue. The farmers and workers survived on minimum wages and worked in deplorable conditions at the factories.

Secondly the social development at this time reflected the gilded aspect of America. One could expect that with a rapidly growing economy, the social gap between the poor and the rich would not be very big. This is done through the explanation of the lifestyles of the rich in America as he compares it to that of the poor. In this era, the social gap was exceedingly big.

The political arena in the US the politics was very exciting but the politicians were very corrupt and could not be relied on at all. The corruption level was very intense that laws and acts that were passed only favored a minority of the US population and left a larger population in despair. For example the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Timber and Land Act gave industries and cattlemen land pushing the Natives out of their homes.  Twain did not fail to mirror the gilded age aspect of America in the last three decades of the 19th century. He reflected the political, social, economic and technological aspect of this era this are the most significant aspects of the ‘gilded age’ the last three decades of the 19th century.

Twain was right to term America as the gilded age. The major positive thing at this time was economic growth. Everything else about this era is not so golden. The gap between the poor and the rich was very large. The workers were oppressed and the company owners were not willing to increase the workers’ salaries or improve their working conditions at the factory. The political scene was not any better as the people who were elected to present the people did not do their work but focused on their personal interests and those of the rich. Therefore the gilded age was not a golden era but an era with a lot of unresolved problems. The every positive thing that happened at this time had an extreme negative.

Works cited

Cassettari, R.  Chapter 17: The triumph of industrial capitalism 1850-1890. 480-505

Twain, Mark, Harriet E. Smith, and Benjamin Griffin. Autobiography of Mark Twain. Berkeley:   University of California Press, 2010. Print.

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