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American Cultural Changes From 1890-1940

In 1890, America was still fighting Indian wars. But Americans were at the end of their frontier and saw civilization from coast to coast. Increasingly, over the next fifty years new opportunities opened up in urban industrial areas. The Civil War had ended slavery, but not discrimination and repression of African Americans. All this was happening during two European wars and dramatic racial conflicts. American literature reflected these changes.
 Mark Twain was a prolific and well-known writer. His stories depicting the slow pace and slave culture of the pre- Civil War Mississippi river corridor, were a window into the past. In “Huckleberry Finn”, written in 1884, he describes the social expectations of the people. Huck was expected to “wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up and go to bed and get up regular and be forever bothering over a book” and refrain from “cussing” (234). Like Huckleberry Finn, America was struggling with accepting the end of slavery and the morality of its practice. It felt “wicked” to help a runaway slave. Huck remembered that Jim, the runaway slave he was traveling with, had been good to him enabling Huck to see his humanity. He could not allow him to be a slave again, deciding instead to “go to hell” and find a way to save Jim. (359).
In 1895, Booker T. Washington emerged as an African American leader, with his speech given at the Atlanta Exposition. He embraced the partnership of black and white people, encouraging whites to tutor blacks making them more fit to exercise their rights and freedom. He called on blacks to “mak[e] friends… of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.” (761). He was roundly praised by some, but other black leaders emerged who advocated a more radical approach to the development of the rights and freedoms of the black community.
The new century brought rapid job opportunities for immigrants and African Americans through technological advances and industrial expansion. Henry Adams wrote about the fear that the new and rapid changes could evoke. He felt that inventions would cause Americans to worship power and deny God and “the truths of his Science.” (1063). Mr. Langley “constantly repeated that the new forces were anarchical and especially that he was not responsible for the new rays in their wicked spirit towards science.” (1063). These industrial advances caused a great migration as cities became bloated with immigrants, and the poor farmers who left rural life for urban industrial jobs. (1063).
Large ethnic neighborhoods organized in these urban areas around the country. Harlem was a famous black neighborhood. Eatonville, Florida, was a small black town where Zora Neale Hurston was raised. Here she was not subjected to racial conflicts and discrimination until she was thirteen, and was sent to school in Jacksonville, Florida. The “sea change” (1516) from a small sheltered town to this large mixed race city was a culture shock to her. In 1928, she writes in an autobiographical piece “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” about the way this shaped her self-confidence. She moved from being just a little girl to being “a little colored girl.” (1516). But she did “not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it.” (1517). Hurston was unusual in her attitude and confidence. She was ahead of her time. She writes that “someone was always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves” as if that was supposed to stir her up to depression or anger. (1517). But she did not buy it. She felt her color at certain times, like when she went to jazz nightclubs and couldn’t help herself from dancing “wildly inside myself,” while her white companion sat “motionless in his seat smoking calmly.” (1517-18). She seemed to embody the confidence African American’s so desired during this time in their emancipation. She belonged to “no race nor time,” just America “right or wrong.” (1518).
Americans were not the same people in 1940 as they had been in 1890. African Americans were emerging as a separate and assertive culture. White Americans were adjusting to new attitudes and urban living.  Americans were becoming more unified in culture and increasing in general acceptance of each other. The frontier was gone and a new American power was in motion. Through writers like Twain, Washington, Adams, and Hurston, we see the huge cultural change that took place in America from a dramatic war over slavery to national and personal confidence.

Works Cited
Adams, Henry. “The Education of Henry Adams.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume C 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003. 1037-1069. 

Paper written by Nicole Prasch. Barefoot In Heaven blog. If this paper is turned in by any other author it is plagiarized.
Hurston, Zora Neale. “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume C 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003. 1516-1518.
Twain, Mark. “Huckleberry Finn.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume C 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003. 219-407.
Washington, Booker T. “Up From Slavery.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume C 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003. 746-780.

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