U.S.A. Historical background
After the War of Independence, America expanded but displaced other native groups including Indian tribes and Mexicans and increased the number of Afro-American slaves. So, it was necessary to make important social reforms about public school, the treatment of prisoners, the insane and the poor, the slavery, and the rights to women.
In 1861 the United States faced their first great crisis between the increasingly industrial and commercial North and the agricultural South which maintained slavery.
Soon after the Republican Abraham Lincoln became President in 1860, 11 southern states seceded from the Federal Union (1861). The result was a costly and bloody Civil War which lasted four years and was won by the northern countries.
Slavery was abolished and the Union was preserved but the most immediate problems were to help ex-slaves and to create loyal state governments.
In the following decades, railroads expanded and industry grew creating a new class of wealthy industrialists, a rich middle class, a vast proletarian working class and a larger numbers of immigrants and of migrants from rural areas formed the new labour force.
U.S.A. Literary Background
In the early 1850s poets wanted to write an original American poetry. Walt Whitman with Leaves of Grass (1855) created a democratic poetry mixing colloquial diction, prose rhythms of journalism, the repetitions of the Bible and the musicality of popular opera. Emily Dickinson wrote very original short, untitled poems, poems, nearly 2,000, only few of them published before her death .
• The adventure novels were enriched with symbols and became allegories of man’s eternal struggle towards truth such as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851)
• In the period of the civil war numerous works about slavery started being published written by black people, now freemen. The first African-American novels William Wells Brown’s Clotel (1853) and Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig (1859) point out the contrast between American ideals of liberty and the real living conditions of American black people.
• Other novels are a response of the white writers to the abuses of slavery like Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe which demonstrates how the slave system violated the most basic ideals of humanity.
New movements and way of writings became increasingly important in American fiction after the Civil War:
• Regionalism, about regional differences; Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches (1870), is a collection of stories about California.
• Realism, about the hidden struggles of city life; Kate Chopin‘s (Katherine O’ Flaherty) The Awakening (1899) deals with the sexual and artistic awakening of a young mother who abandons her family.
• Naturalism , about a predetermined fate that makes human will ultimately powerless; Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s (Mark Twain), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) portrays Southern characters sketching many sides of life and human nature; Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868-1869)deals with psychology and moral development in four young women showing concern with childhood and adolescence; Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is about a young woman’s life in a New York City slum, and The Red Badge of Courage (1895), is an intense examination of the fear and the state of the human mind during the Civil War; Frank Norris’s McTeague (1899), is a portrait of the effects of greed, and The Octopus (1901) depicts the conflict between farmers and the railroad owners in California.
• Interior monologue, ,introduced to describe social portrayals; Henry Jamesused this technique uneder the influence of his brother, the philosopher William James in The Portrait of a Lady (1881); The Ambassadors (1903) and the Golden Bowl (1904) ; Edith Wharton (Edith Jones) set her novels among the wealthy and worldly élite of New York City and focus on social definition and convention or on the mental and emotional traps that limit people’s desire and ability to change. (The House of Mirth, 1905; Ethan Frome, 1911; The Age of Innocence, 1920).
From the 1820s to the 1840s there was a vogue for so-called Indian plays. Metamora, or The Last of the Wampanoags (1829) by John Augustus Stone is a melodrama set in an earlier period of frontier history (the 1670s) and deals with the impossibility for savage people, who live in harmony with nature, to survive with the white man.
In the 1820s William Henry Brown organized in New York City an African American acting troupe, the African Theatre that produced plays by Shakespeare as well as African American plays, including The Drama of King Shotaway (1823) written by Brown.