American Literature in Context from 1865 to 1929

American Literature in Context from 1865 to 1929

American Literature in Context from 1865 to 1929

American Literature in Context from 1865 to 1929

Synopsis

This book places major literary works within the context of the topics that engaged a great number of American writers in the period from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression Topics include Civil War memory, the virtual re-enslavement of African-Americans after Reconstruction, and radical social movements Draws on a range of documents from magazine and newspaper accounts to government reports and important non-fiction Presents a contemporary history as writers might have understood it as they were writing, not as historians have interpreted it. Designed to be compatible with the major anthologies of literature from the period Equips students and general readers with the necessary historical context needed to understand the writings from this period and provides original and useful readings that demonstrate how context contributes to meaning Includes a historical timeline, featuring key literary works, American presidents, and historical events

Excerpt

Much of the most significant American literature produced in the 1865 1929 period was engaged with the great social issues of the day. Some of this writing was looked to by common readers as their primary source of knowledge and wisdom about the world, so much so that it is tempting to call the era the Age of the Writer. Writers were respected as people who could convey incisive understanding and truth and wisdom about the world; novels, stories, poems, and plays were respected as “mirrors” of the actual. Journalists are sometimes said to write the “first rough drafts” of history. For many readers, fiction writers, poets, and playwrights wrote the second, third, and fourth drafts. “Ethnography,” a word meaning “the scientific description of nations or races of men, with their customs, habits, and points of difference” was first used in the mid - nineteenth century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary; by the 1880s, an “ethnographer” was defined as a person who “studied the customs, the manners, the beliefs of men.” Ethnography would later become the province of fields such as anthropology and sociology. But for a long time writers wrote the standard American ethnographies, relying not on scientific method, data collection, analysis, and peer review but on their own observations, intuitions, contextual knowledge, and ability to understand psychological and behavioral patterns. Writers had to do all this, it should be added, while entertaining or at least interesting readers and, furthermore, they had to do it while making money and creating glory for their publishers and for themselves.

To whom else could contemporary readers have turned for knowledge except writers, to whom else could they have listened? Radio and movies did not begin to fully develop until the 1920s, though a few earlier films, like Birth of a Nation (1915), taught major lessons to mass audiences. Mass newspapers and magazines were too rapidly produced and too tied to . . .

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