I have set this title to the U6 as they approach the end of their teaching. We have used all the possible past papers and several of my wider exploratory essay questions, many of which can be heard in discussion on the site in the American Literature tag.
My thoughts are to engage with a discussion of the quotation which places the idea of urbanisation, in this case, in conflict with the ‘purer’ ideals of the Pioneer period. Twain coined this phrase in a discussion of the Gilded Age – the idea of an age which appeared to be of high value but which was covering an altogether murkier reality. In light of this, I hope students will begin to explore urbanisation of all sizes throughout our period -the towns of the lower Mississippi which Twain portrays as hotbeds of indolence, bigotry and hypocrisy and the Urban Jungles of later work – The Jungle, Sister Carrie, Gatsby or Native Son in which humanity seems to be depicted as powerless and insignificant against the new landscape of the Urban Frontier.
They will also pick up the idea that with urbanisation came criminality and also thwarted hopes – not just as seen in Nick Carraway who retreats to the open spaces of the Mid West as fast as possible at the end of GG, but also in the hopes of the millions of former slaves who migrated North to the cities in the hope of finding respect and meaningful employment. The development of the slum dwellings and hard manual labour of the stock yards of Chicago, for example, is a clear manifestation of the cloud lurking behind the silver lining of the emancipation.
The question also looks at the post-bellum shift in the South and the arrival of vast urban centres throughout the country which replace the small settlements of a more innocent era. The Agrarian South was defeated by its Northern industrial neighbour and there is a suggestion in writing of the Southern Agrarian School, that the ways of the South were lost.Indeed it is these ‘values’ which Twain so mercilessly lampoons in the middle section of Finn and the tension is clear. An urbanite can see the issues with the reluctance to let go of a bygone age and the manner in which the small urban settlements are riven with misplaced honour and with hypocrisy or deceit, however he also sees the damage of the new urban world. His Mississippi is a nostalgic look at life before the railways were laid across the continent, when nature ceased to be a help to civilisation and needed to be tamed by the imposition of iron. One unintended effect was to signal the death-kness to many communities too small to be granted a railway station. There centres became lost and died out – their inhabitants forced to migrate to the railway centres and thus to begin the demand for ever increasing accommodation and overcrowding -the Jungle.
For the last time I post an essay by Asher Weisz, one of my students. I like it – 75 minutes writing…