Join Our Ranks: Labor Unions in the 1890s and 1990s

By Alex Sutton

The 1890s and 1990s saw the developments of new technologies in both eras radically changed the nature of the workforce and the economic structure in the country. Both decades saw an increased importance placed on industrialization and the production of goods on a large scale. Companies were able to monopolize on these new innovations in order to profit and benefit from these changes. While this new advancement in production served to benefit those in charge, it ultimately made the workers the victims of change.

Focusing on productivity, companies exploited their workers and increased their control over production. Workers faced terrible working conditions, pay, and treatment. In both the 1890s and 1990s, workers fought to gain back their rights and better working conditions. Each decade placed great importance on unions and engaged in numerous strikes to boycott their treatment. The rights of workers became a major issue in American society and drew the nation into the discussion. Dispelling the belief that innovation would benefit everyone, workers brought to light the realities of working conditions.

The grievances expressed by workers in the 1890s and 1990s were different, however, the outpouring of the workers’ outrage highlights the similarities between the two decades. Fighting to earn better treatment and gain a more equal voice, workers in both eras joined labor unions in order to achieve their goals. While individual workers felt alone and at risk, unions could provide a communal organization for individuals to have their voices heard.

In 1842, the case Commonwealth v. Hunt asserted that it was not illegal for workers to organize a union or try to compel recognition of that union with a strike. This ruling was essential to the establishment of labor unions that could become permanent institutions with legal rights. (Nelles). However, the struggle for the right to unionize continued due to resistance by corporations and divisions within the workforce well into the 20th century. Examining news articles from both decades reveals that workers’ grievances focused on workers’ conditions and rights and the important roles that labor unions played in both the 1890s and 1990s.


“Labor’s Rights and Wrongs: Interesting Argument in the American Railway Union Suits”

On May 11, 1894, the Pullman Strike began when 4,000 workers employed by the Pullman Railroad Company walked off their jobs. After the Panic of 1893, George Pullman, the company’s president, decided to cut the workers’ wages by twenty-five percent without introducing corresponding reductions in rent for company housing. This financial burden made it nearly impossible for workers to pay for their housing and food, leading to a delegation of workers presenting their grievances to George Pullman to no avail. (Bassett).

Thirty-five percent of the workers at the Pullman company were members of the American Railway Union, which supported the strike. Eugene V. Debs, the president of the ARU, encouraged railroad workers to boycott the handling of Pullman cars nationwide, causing the strike to have 250,000 workers involved at its peak. The strike was eventually ended in mid-July when a federal injunction was issued and President Cleveland called in the federal national guard to suppress what was deemed an illegal strike. Citing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the injunction forbid any interference with the mail. Debs, along with four other ARU leaders, was arrested and jailed for conspiracy and ignoring the injunction following the strike. (Bassett).

The government brought a case against the American Railway Union, branding the Pullman boycott as a conspiracy in restraint of trade under the Sherman anti-trust law. The defendants’ laweyer, S.S. Gregory, argued that the injunction cut off ARU leaders from communicating with their subordinates and impeded the workers’ right to strike and have leaders to advise them. He also argued that the Sherman anti-trust law was unconstitutional; it was meant to address oppressive businesses and monopolies, not allow the federal government to interfere in labor strikes. George also noted the importance of the trial, stating, “thousands of persons here, as well as all over the country, are watching this case.” (“Labor’s Rights”). Ultimately the prosecution dropped the charges, however, the precedent set by the injunction would have lasting effects on union strikes in the future.

The Pullman Strike and its resulting legal case demonstrate the importance and focus on workers’ rights and unions to those in the 1890s. The strike represented the first time the federal government used an injunction to break a strike, ingraining the idea that the government and the courts would support big business rather than the workers. The industrialization of the workforce during this decade ushered in an era of horrendous working conditions and the decrease in workers’ rights. The Pullman workers’ demands are exemplary of workers’ demands of the time. Calling for a brotherhood of equals rather than being treated as children in a paternalistic relationship, Pullman workers sought to gain more direct control of autonomy. Through creating a fraternalistic relationship,the workers hoped to better their conditions and situations. (Addams).

These desires spread far beyond just the Pullman workers and were echoed throughout the nation, beginning to gain power. This can be seen in the People’s Party and their platform. In 1892, the party declared the importance of unions, stating “the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual.” (People’s Party, 251). The party also supported returning the power of the economy back to the people themselves, criticizing monopolies and corporate interests.



“The Condition of the Laboring Man at Pullman,” Chicago Labor, July 7, 1894.

The workers at the Pullman company saw themselves as being exploited by Pullman for his own gain. A political cartoon published at the time of the Pullman strike illustrates the oppression that the workforce at the Pullman company encountered. In the cartoon, a Pullman employee is seen being crushed between two weights labeled low wages and high rent. The worker is portrayed as a helpless, powerless man. Additionally, the weights also signify capitalism, monopoly, plutocracy, and wage slavery. The man crushing the employee between the two weights is Pullman, depicted as a large, wealthy man. The difference in the two men highlights that the worker suffers for the benefit of those in charge; the man representing Pullman is heavy-set and well-dressed, showing that he has enough money to  buy food and clothes in excess.


“The Old and the New Labor Unions”

In a 1894 editorial for the New York Times, the actions of Debs and the American Railway Union during the Pullman strike are brought into question. The author sees Debs as a reckless figure whose actions during the strike were appalling and ruinous to his movement. The author believes that by using the boycott as a weapon for the accomplishment of their ends, the union inflicted losses upon the workers by compelling them to go on strike and lose their wages. Additionally, the author explains that it takes months or years for the workers to figure out that the strikes are a losing game and that only a small number actually benefit. (“The Old”).

In opposition to these “old” labor unions, the author promotes the idea of “new” labor unions that would actually benefit their members. These unions would be based in respect for their contracts with the employing companies.  They would, “have legitimate objects, they are managed with some regard for business principles, with a sense of responsibility to the public, and with a decent respect for law and order” (Article). In addition, these unions would mark a new century that would be a brighter era for both workers and their employers. The union would work with the employers to make sure that mutual interests were protected, instead of simply making demands to the companies.  These unions would benefit the general mass of workers rather than a select few, in turn making the community prosperous. Additionally, it shows how the public perceived union strikes at the time as a nuisance and harmful to society. It is also important to note that the New York Times, while becoming more independent and analytical during the 1890s, was historically a Republican-leaning paper. Republicans at the time generally supported business and promoted policies that sustained the fast growth of industries. (“The Old”).

This editorial highlights the desire for brotherhood during the 1890s. While creating a fraternalistic work environment was one of the goals of the Pullman strike, the workers pursued the wrong means in achieving their goal. The belief of the author and many others that unions had to be built out of mutual respect and interest became extremely important for later labor unions. Unions such as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the Brotherhood of Trainmen gained popularity after the Pullman strike. As their names suggest, these unions valued brotherhood and used less “wild” tactics to attain their goals. The labor unions of the 1890s desired better conditions and wages, but also a seat at the table with their employers.


“11,500 Employees Strike At a Major G.M. Factory”

 On September 27, 1994, about 11,500 workers at a General Motors manufacturing complex in Flint, Michigan walked off their jobs. The auto union cited the strain of overtime work as the reason for the strike, with the union-led protest asserting that the strain of keeping up with a robust demand for cars was ruining worker’s health. The union demanded that the auto maker hire more full-time workers to reduce the number of overtime hours that union members are working, stating that the extra work caused repetitive stress injuries. The strike was just one in a series of local labor struggles at General Motors. G.M.was forced to reduce its blue-collar headcount by twenty-four percent since the end of 1990, believing “that the automaker would improve its lagging productivity and profitability by reducing the number of workers it uses to build vehicles.” (Article). These efforts ultimately did not help the company, with its productivity continuing to lag behind that of its domestic and Japanese competitors. (Doron).

The local union was entitled to strike over health and safety issues, work force levels, and the diversion of work to outside, nonunion suppliers. During the summer of 1994, G.M. hired temporary workers to relieve the overtime pressure. However, the union objected that temporary workers were a divisive presence because they were paid far less and received no health or pension benefits. Additionally, G.M. offered incentives to laid-off workers from other parts of the country to move to Flint and work there. (Doron).

The G.M. strike helps to illuminate the issues workers in the 1990s faced. Similar to the 1890s, the introduction of new technology and economic structures revolutionized the workforce. Believing that “new technology was increasing the pace of growth in productivity,” companies sought to become more successful no matter the consequences, particularly to their workers. (Hodgson, 95). Companies declared that increased productivity would benefit everyone, that a rising tide lifts all boats. In reality, however, only those controlling the means of production benefited, while those actually producing fell victim to new innovations and inequality rapidly grew. (Hodgson, 103).

Additionally, workers in the 1990s held a fear of losing their jobs to overseas manufacturers. The 1990s saw a focus on brand-names, and companies aimed at building superbrands. These superbrands, however, were extraordinarily expensive to create, causing companies to seek ways of cutting labor costs. The manner in which companies accomplished this was through out-sourcing production overseas where it was cheaper to manufacture products. Plants throughout the United States began to close as jobs were eliminated and sent overseas. (Klein). This flight of jobs became a major focus for the American workforce during the 1990s and illustrated the problem that workers faced.


U.A.W. Local 651 workers walk from the Delphi East complex along Averill Avenue in Flint, Mich. as they strike on Thursday June 11, 1998.

The image of the G.M. workers on strike displays the importance of labor unions in the 1990s and the support between the workers. It also depicts the diverse group that was affected by the new “innovations” of the 1990s: the employees on strike vary by gender, race, and age. This diverse groups of workers and the size of the union on strike exemplifies the role labor unions played in protecting the workforce in the 1990s.


“Labor’s Opportunity”

In a 1995 editorial for The Washington Post, an opportunity for the revival of labor unions is discussed. The author examines the issues unions are facing, most importantly the enormous erosion of membership and power of the unions. Fewer than one out of six Americans in the 1990s belonged to a union. However, the author believes that the election of John J. Sweeney as president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is a sign of optimism for labor unions, “organized labor may now have a historic opportunity before it, although it similarly violates the common wisdom even to hint it” (“Labor’s Opportunity”).

Sweeney, a champion of human rights, promised to invest new money and energy into organizing labor unions and use more confrontational tactics than recently used by unions. Sweeney was able to recruit members that were considered the most difficult to reach, largely increasing the size of labor unions. In addition to Sweeney, the challenges facing the workforce at the time contributed to this new sense of opportunity for unions. Waves of layoffs and corporate downsizing forced workers to realize that they were more vulnerable than they thought. Instilling a sense of solidarity in workers, this circumstances created a new appeal in the idea of collective action to preserve some balance in the market for labor. (“Labor’s Opportunity”).

 This editorial highlights the anxiety and fears that workers faced in the 1990s. During the 1980s, organized labor was damaged by union-busting and shrinking membership, however, the conditions of the 1990s made the revival of labor unions a necessity. A solidarity was formed between workers, allowing for labor unions to strengthen. (Holusha). Job security became a main grievance of the labor unions and one of the biggest motivating factors in becoming a union member. The unions sought to protect current employment levels while companies looked for lower-cost outside suppliers. The 1990s revitalization of labor unions illustrated the power workers had in numbers and their desire for more rights.


 Additional Sources:

Jonathan Bassett, “The Pullman Strike of 1894,” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 11, no. 2, 1997, pp. 34–41.

Doron P. Levin, “11,500 Employees Strike at a Major G.M. Factory,” New York Times, Sep 28, 1994.

John Holusha, “Unions are Expanding their Role to Survive in the 90s,” The New York Times, Aug. 19, 1990.

“Labor’s Opportunity,” The Washington Post, Oct. 27, 1995.

“Labor’s Rights and Wrongs,” New York Times, Sep 28, 1894.

Walter Nelles, “Commonwealth v. Hunt,” Columbia Law Review 32.7 (1932).

 “The Old and the New Labor Unions,” New York Times, July 8, 1894.

Media “Othering” in 1898 and 1998

By: Luke Wiley

Even throughout our country’s comparatively short lifespan, there have been significant developments in the nation’s political and social viewpoints. Within the one hundred-year span between the 1890’s and the 1990’s, one would typically expect there to be a shift in focus of the social sentiment that pervaded the United States. While this is most certainly the case between the two decades, the underlying themes of the citizenry have remained constant. When analyzing the two decades, one notices the similarities that exist between the time periods in terms of feeling towards marginalized groups. While the targeted minorities may have changed from one scapegoat to another over the course of the hundred-year period we have examined, the tendency of the national spotlight to center on groups that are different than the white majority has not faded from view. During the 1890’s, immigration laws and the burgeoning American empire allowed the fear of immigrants entering the country and America’s duty as civilizer of imperially acquired colonies to enter the sphere of social consciousness. During the 1990’s, mass incarceration and the AIDS epidemic coupled with the murder of Matthew Shepard forced the disadvantaged and impoverished black and Latino communities and the socially marginalized gay community into the public eye. The American majoritarian need to “other” ostracized communities has become second nature, shifting the focus from group to group over the course of the hundred years we have examined.

News Comparison

1898 proved to be an extremely significant year when looking at the topic of American empire. It was in this year that Spain ceded many of their holdings in the Caribbean and the Pacific to the United States, with specific news coverage being focused on the bloody conflict for independence in the Philippines. A news article from the Salt Lake Semi-Weekly Tribune on October 18th, 1898 attempted to frame the war in the Philippines not as one of “conquest” but of “liberation and order,” for the purposes of protecting “humanity and civilization.” As suggested by Kristin Hoganson, regardless of the United States veils their attempts at empire building as beneficent, America simply replaced the Spanish colonial masters (Hoganson, 14). The use of the struggle of the native against a colonial oppressor made for excellent reading in the late 19th century, allowing people a look into the lives of exotic communities, inherently “othering” their cultural experience. By crafting the colonial native as someone who needs to be saved, the oppressed can never attain a level of equal status as the American majority.

Philippines Cartoon.jpg

(“Something Lacking,” 30 July 1898, from John J. Johnson)

(This photo depicts the Philippines as an underdeveloped part of the United States Imperial System. The small nation wonders “where do I come in on this,” referring to his place in the folds of American society and empire. This cartoon visually portrays media “othering”)

The 1990’s presented a much similar problem with a much different demographic. As the decade wore on, an upswing in both crime and mass incarceration occurred throughout the United States. Set up by the Nixon and Regan administration’s War on Drugs, the American prison industrial complex grew at an alarming speed. These disadvantaged communities suffered at the hands of federally funded, brutal police forces that jailed black and Latino bodies at astronomical rates when compared to their white counterparts. However, as reportedon in an article from the Los Angeles Times on October 18th, 1998, the violence enacted on minority populations continued at incomparable degrees in California prisons. The article states that California’s cases of deadly force used to stop prison fights outnumber the entirety of the nation by a ratio 2:1. The article’s focus on minority populations in prisons suggests that these communities have higher rates of incarceration in states like California. The association of marginalized minority to t criminal becomes a pervasive notion throughout the media in the 1990’s, as suggested by the examination of news coverage of the LA Disturbances in Burn Motherfucker, Burn.

           The examination of marginalized communities in American media is telling when attempting to create a narrative on the experiences of minorities. When looking at Filipinos (or other colonially acquired nations) in the 1890’s or blacks (and Latinos) in the 1990’s, the prominence of “othering” becomes apparent; crafting an image of the minority as lesser to be used to justify violent or otherwise “civilizing” actions towards them by the majority. The use of this tactic is as old as the Republic itself; the specific group’s focus is what changes as time passes.

Editorial Comparison

As the 19th century wore on, an increasing number of European and Asian immigrants entered the United States, both through legal and illegal means. The national sentiment towards immigrants turned increasingly sour over the course of the latter half of the century with many rigid immigration laws being passed regularly by the United States Congress. With the increase in immigration to the United States, an insidious fear crept into the minds of the white, majority citizens of the nation. With the growing levels of trepidation about what these newly inherited immigrants would do to the country, the national focus shifted towards raising awareness of the invading menace. As witnessed in an article by the North American on October 18th, 1898, there was resentment towards the loose law enforcement regarding immigration. The idea that America was allowing more “undesirables” into the country worried the majority populace. As aresult, the majority population created an “Us vs. Them” mentality, effectively “othering” immigrant communities, pitting themselves against each other. While the immigrant’s attempts at naturalization were oftentimes benevolent, as suggested by members of the Chinese Equal Rights League in their appeal, the white majority saw it as a threat to the American way of life.

The latter half of the 20th century saw an increase in the visibility of the homosexual community on the national stage in the United States. After the events at the Stonewall Inn, the gay liberation movement became much more present and vocal in the media. However, the AIDS epidemic of the late 20th century deepened the fear of homosexuality in the United States, equating the preference to a disease. In this national climate, two men posing as homosexuals lured a young man named Matt Shepard to his death in Laramie, Wyoming. As suggested by David Leavitt, writing for the New York Times, the “hate-mongerers” are taking the place of the declining AIDS virus, killing men that partake in homosexual activity. Leavitt’s piece tries to examine the “hate epidemic” in an effort to make sense of the senseless killing of Matt Shepard and countless other gay men and women in the United States. Leavitt’s article gives a firsthand look at hate towards homosexuals in America, how he cannot hold the hand of his partner in public without fear of death being thrust upon him. Sadly, Matthew Shepard had to die for the nation to look at the way we collectively view homosexuality as an unnatural disease.

Matt Shepard Photo.jpg

(No title, 21 Mar. 2014, from Paul Berge)

(This cartoon portrays one of the most recognizable hate groups in America, the Westboro Baptist Church, searching for the funeral of Matt Shepard. Their protests and slogan “God Hates Fags” became infamous in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. They’re seen here emerging from the sewer, where they belong)

Each of these editorials provides a unique look at disadvantaged groups in their respective decades. Immigrants and homosexuals in America have very little in common when you look at them from a surface standpoint. However, when you examine how they were portrayed in the national spotlight, as unnatural, diseased, and dangerous to American values, the emergence of majority “othering” becomes clear once again.

Newspapers Cited

Arax, Mark, Gladstone, Mark. “Only California Uses Deadly Force in Inmate Fights.”

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) 18 Oct. 1998: n.p. Web. 17 Nov 2017.

“Investigation of Immigation.” North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18 Oct. 1898: n.p. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.

Leavitt, David. “The Hate Epidemic.” New York Times (New York City, New York) 18 Oct. 1998: n.p. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.

“Must Give up Philippines.” Salt Lake Semi-Weekly Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) 18 Oct. 1898: n.p. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.

The Public’s Feeling Towards Economy and Media Between 1896 and 1996

By Peter Chien

Money has been our trading standard for more than 100 years. It is no doubt to be the foundation of our modern society. Back in 1896, money was not that common in trade. People often used gold and silver to pay and sell their goods. This type of gold and silver standard were the bimetallic standard. In another word, gold and silver work as our paper bill and coins. One-dollar equivalent to 4 quarters, vice versa. This mechanism works the same in bimetallism system between gold and silver. There would be certain exchange rate from gold to silver or silver to gold. In fact, the exchange rate will vary just like our currency exchange rate, it varies by time and economy. In 1896, economy and society were in panic. The inflation between gold and silver, lack of job opportunity, impact of technology advance, all to be consider directly result in tough economy. Fast forward to 1996, the economy was not in panic, but the United States certainly grow slower compare with other European nations. Back in 1896, newspaper was considered to be one of the most common source of information. In another word, it is the only way to know how our nation function and what happened in the nation for most citizens. But through the advance of technology, the newspaper argument shifts from conservative to more liberal way in discussion.

In 1896, it was a transition state of America. Before that time, the Americans used to be able to trade their product in bimetallism system which is a monetary system typically gold and silver. In another word, gold and silver can be exchange freely without limitation and was legally acceptable payment to all. During that year, economy was not in a good shape. People still suffer in the depression especially farmer and the people who consider to be lower class such as miner. Therefore, bimetallism system was mostly preferred by farmers which they can pay off their debt with silver. In another word, famer can take advantage of this system because they had access to the silver more easily. William Jennings Bryan said “we ought to declare in favor of international bimetallism-thereby declaring that the gold standard is wrong and that the principle of bimetallism is better” (Bryan 3). But this dream was quickly dropped when government decided to switch to a gold standard only system. Moreover, The Idaho Avalanche mention “the coinage of silver under the Blend act provided a gradual increase to our currency that was much needed, but which as population increased, proved insufficient” (“Unequalled Service.” Idaho Avalanche [Silver City, Idaho] 13 Mar. 1896) which farmer was unable to pay off their debt. Farmer and miner were lacking confident to the economy and directly result in destructive behavior to the employer.  Furthermore, even some major leading mine were closed down, the total output of fold and silver were both went up (“Mineral Output.” Idaho Avalanche [Silver City, Idaho] 13 Mar. 1896). In fact, this happened due to the advance of technology. But on the other hand, even with the advance of technology, the cotton market still significantly decreases in price and demand (“The Markets.” Fayetteville Observer [Fayetteville, North Carolina] 13 Mar. 1896). In fact, various market report on the news shows trend on price drop. Therefore, people who lived in that era tend to lose their faith to the economy and government. Fast forward to 1996, GOP leader added $2.7 billion in education and job training to ensure function of the agency (Fram, Alan. “GOP leaders boost funds, move away from a U.S. shutdown.” Philadelphia [Philadelphia]13 Mar 1996: 7). Moreover, this bill was in concern which is not going to be well spend and people losing confidence to the government’s decision to pass this bill. Additionally, this bill was only temporary which only last till the end of the month. It seems that the people from 1896 and 1996 shares the common concern to their economy. In 1896, people were fighting for their survival under depression, and in 1996, people were carefully examined their government policy to ensure the bill won’t drag the economy down.


(“THE REALITY. The triumph of gold over silver,” New Orleans Bee, November 4, 1896)

This image William McKinley winning a boxing match against silver dollar which symbolic the victory over bimetallism system. In another word, gold standard was adapted to the new single standard. This image also demonstrate how media was using descriptive way to tell story without much of comments as well.

Back to 1896, advance of communication technology were being reach out to peoples’ daily life. People tend to care and pay attention to public matters and even someone’s speech. In the article “Curious Diplomatics”, author states that “government by newspaper was a wholesome innovation, and, indeed, a natural outcome of free institutions, but that concerns the supreme direction of affairs. Subordinate to which are the diplomatic and consular service and the army and navy, branches of the public service necessarily held under very strict rules of conduct” (“Curious Diplomatics.” Fayetteville Observer [Fayetteville, North Carolina] 13 Mar. 1896). This statement was made when Mr. De Lome, the Minister from Spain send a letter out to criticize the speech which made by United States Senator. It was very interesting to see such things being published on newspaper at that time. In fact, this was very uncommon to saw a letter or statement coming from an official staff from the Spanish government to illustrate his personal opinion in public and he even credited it.  This might be result how people in that era was adapting themselves to more openly discuss things. Moreover, it seems like author was arguing the validity of government employee wrote some documents like that to be public or is it proper to do so. Deeply, this might cause serious consequences if public misinterpreted. In the other time of 1996, the first amendment was being openly discuss when and African American GOP presidential candidate seeking to join the hall of the debate that sponsored and broadcast through local television station. (“Abusing The First Amendment.” Washington Informer [Washington, D.C]13 Mar 1996: 12) Certainly, this type of discussion demonstrates how much racism was in that era. But more importantly, is how media such as newspaper or television can publicly discuss this type of matter. It seems like after a hundred year later, people start to get used to this type of discussion regardless which criteria or category it was. In another word, we won’t see this type of judgement and detail descriptive to a political even on the newspaper if we were in 1896. In fact, this might not even be on the newspaper if it happens in 1896. It is simply racism and most political participant were Caucasian instead of African Americans. It seems like just that one hundred years apart, people transition themselves from indirect criticism tone to a more direct and straight to the point fashion. From the perspective of American citizen, it truly represents an improvement of human rights towards the first amendment. In another word, the improvement on freedom of speech and how media was being able to accelerate that process was phenomenon.


(Henry Cisneras, “The Gingrich Protection Club,” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Mar 29, 1996)

This image shows how president, GOP ethics committee members and GOP federal election commission members guarding the funds to prevent anyone trying to abuse the system. In another word, if people trying to live decent live with their children, then they will not get access to public housing and benefits. This image shows how government should do in people’s mind in a direct image representation.

shape up

(“You Gotta Shape Up,” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, Mar 21, 1996)

This image illustrate congress as a drunk person and regulatory agencies was asking him to shape up. In another word, the congress was drunk by consume all those money from company and citizens without putting it to good use. This image instead of only telling readers what happened, but was also telling the government what people think for this specific bill and event.


Little Women and the Conflicts of the Feminist Lifestyle

By Nadine Blank

As a fairly new country with nearly no literary standing in the world, America was due for a classic feminist tale for readers of all ages. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women checked all the boxes as far as nineteenth-century American questions went, addressing issues like economic dependency on men, conflicts between being independent women and docile wives, and compromise versus submission. Some feminists such as Judith Fetterley argue that while the Civil War was going on in the novel, the main character Jo was facing her own Civil War regarding her place in America. Using the novel as an idealized platform for her own life, Alcott explains her ideas of feminist struggles in American culture in the 1800s.

One step further, Angela Estes and Kathleen Lant argue that Jo is Alcott’s doll of sorts, allowing her to experience her own conflicts in an out-of-body context:

“For Jo is an experimental heroine through whom Alcott can explore the tensions of female experience in nineteenth-century America: between being a dutiful member of women’s sphere and being an independent, self-reliant woman” (103).

These spheres do not always intersect, as Jo learns in “Chapter 27: Literary Lessons.” When faced with a decision of waiting to publish her book the way she wants it or publishing a cut-down version for a cash advance she can spend on her family, she explains her line of thinking:

“Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this important subject” (7).

Jo’s thought process is not a feminist one, but that is not to say it is bad. In fact, in the nineteenth century, this thought process would have been considered womanly and motherly. This is part of the conflict that Jo grapples with; her existence as a “little woman” does not always fit with her existence as a writer. Alcott herself most likely felt this way and used the novel as an outlet for her frustration of the limitations of nineteenth-century American feminist progress.


Sita and SaritaCecilia Beaux c. 1921

The arts were a large feminist influence in the nineteenth century and beyond, and many female artists, like Alcott, used their art as an outlet. Cecilia Beaux was an art student in Paris in the late nineteenth century, and she developed skill and focused on painting women as more than just objects of beauty. The woman pictured is her cousin, Sarah Allibone Leavitt, with a carefully crafted expression of intelligence. Beaux enjoyed this piece so much that “she made a second painting for her ‘own satisfaction when the original went to France for good.”


The concept of the “little woman” seems to be a self-conflicting feminist viewpoint, which is why it works so well in a book that Alcott loads with feminist vs. traditionalist discord. Alcott and her characters themselves are living through unsolvable mixed feelings. Fetterley assumes that this is the ultimate message of Alcott’s novel:

“Our attitude, moreover, is not the result of feminist values imposed on Alcott’s work but the result of ambivalence within the work on the subject of what it means to be a little woman. Certainly this ambivalence is itself part of the message of Little Women. It accurately reflects the position of the woman writer in nineteenth-century America, confronted on all sides by forces pressuring her to compromise her vision” (Fetterley 382).

Jo and most likely Alcott’s dilemma is two dueling pressures: feminist demands and womanly demands. Alcott experiences this as a writer and puts Jo into situations like this as a writer and breadwinner:

“So Jo was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house, for by the magic of a pen, her ‘rubbish’ turned into comforts for them all” (6).

On the one hand, Jo is making her own money doing something she is passionate about, something that many women in the nineteenth century were unable to achieve. On the other hand, she is selling out with sensationalist stories that she knows will sell in order to earn this money, which goes against her plea for independence. In the end, there is no right answer, and what Alcott may be toying with in this as well as the very title of the book is a concept that may even be appreciated in today’s feminism. Alcott’s book may be a prime example that being a feminist and living a feminist life might not mean that a woman’s every action must be a feminist act. Little Women eliminates the unhealthy expectations and guilt of conflicting ideas when pursuing something less than liberating and outlines an accepting pro-woman lifestyle, no matter how a woman may choose to live.



Fetterley, Judith. “”Little Women”: Alcotts Civil War.” Feminist Studies 5, no. 2 (1979): 369. doi:10.2307/3177602.

Alcott, Louisa May. Chapter 27: Literary Lessons. In Little Women.

Estes, Angela M., and Kathleen Margaret Lant. “Dismembering the Text: The Horror of Louisa May Alcotts Little Women.” Childrens Literature 17, no. 1 (1989): 98-123. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0430.




Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

By Jeremy Mahr


Photo of Henry David Thoreau. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. 


Written in 1848, Henry David Thoreau’s seminal essay “Civil Disobedience” articulates Thoreau’s political awakening as an anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian dissident. Inspired by Thoreau’s brief stint in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax, as well as his disgust with the institution of slavery and the Mexican-American War, the moral and political arguments in “Civil Disobedience” have found renewed relevance generations after the essay’s original publication date. It has been cited as an inspiration by figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Tolstoy, as well as the activists of Tiananmen Square and the Vietnam War protest movement.

As an outgrowth of the contemporary Transcendentalist movement which critiqued American society and the conformity that it seemed to demand, “Civil Disobedience” reflected a uniquely American form of dissent that drew from Enlightenment ideas of liberty and self-autonomy and extended them to support radical ideas of individualist political action. Beginning his essay with the benign adage of “That government is best which governs least,” Thoreau uses his platform to excoriate governments as agents of ineptitude and corruption. Like prominent thinkers of his day, Thoreau agreed that governments derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed. However,

“government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient” (1).

As a result of their inefficiencies, governments typically do more harm than good and are thus unjustified. According to Thoreau, even democracy cannot be a cure for this; because democracies rely on the will of the majority, rather than what is wise or just, they will fall victim to the same ills.

Despite these views, Thoreau was not a pessimist, and generally agreed that democracy was a superior form of government. However, he simply believed that people could do better. As he stated,

“The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?” (17).

Utilizing a framework of societal progress that many 19th Century Americans would have found familiar, Thoreau subverted mainstream expectations by arguing for a form beyond democracy, the U.S. Constitution, and possibly government itself. Because governments are illegitimate, Thoreau believed that decisions made by an individual’s conscience are not necessarily inferior to those made by government bodies. Therefore, respect for the law should always come secondary to respect for what is moral and right. In Thoreau’s eyes, because government upholds immoral causes such as slavery or the invasion of sovereign Mexican territory, people are not obligated to obey its laws. Thus, by using familiar themes of progress and freedom, Thoreau gives support for a radical, borderline anarchist vision of society in which individual will, not laws, dictates human action.


This photo of the Mexican-American War, depicting the Storming of Chapeltepec, 1877, provides a contrast to Henry David Thoreau’s anti-war stance. Whereas Thoreau is stridently anti-nationalistic, this image shows a growing sense of American nationhood, as evidenced when the soldier places the American flag near the center of the image, emphasizing the association between national pride and military conquest. Throughout “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau tries to show the evils of government, and how soldiers, as the supposed unthinking enforcement arm of government, could be a threat to liberty. He presents what he perceives to be the irony of how soldiers trained to follow orders are hailed as heroes while men of true virtue and conviction were vilified as ungrateful and unpatriotic. The differing views of soldiers, either as imperialist drones or conquering heroes, mirrors contemporary debates about the legality of the Mexican-American War as well as modern debates about national pride and the role of the military in securing or infringing upon liberty. Image courtesy of Getty. 

Thoreau’s identification of social change through the power of individuals rather than institutions sometimes led him to support violent causes, such as his admiration of radical abolitionist John Brown. As Donohue writes,

“Thoreau’s reaction to Brown, then, is not a break from his individualistic political views, but an identification of such values in the figure of Brown” (Donohue, 2007, pg 5). 

In John Brown, Thoreau saw the idea manifested of a man who was willing to, in the words of Donohue, attack

“the roots of the slavery problem, and despite the violent measures used in this attack, it was the effort made—by an individual man of superior moral conscience against an unjust government….” (Donohue, 2007, pg 263).

Thoreau’s support for a man who advocated extra-parliamentary means for revolutionary change places him among a line of radical Americans who advocated for direct action, rather than the ballot, by any means necessary.

To treat “Civil Disobedience” as merely as anti-establishment screed, however, would not do it justice. A key insight in “Civil Disobedience” that elevates the essay beyond merely advocating for social change is its argument for the complicity of all citizens in enabling injustice. In doing so, it raises questions about the societal privileges that people all enjoy, including those of the self-styled dissidents themselves.

In the central episode of the essay, Thoreau confronts his neighbor, a taxgatherer, and refuses to pay the tax:

“I meet this American government, or its representative the State government, directly, and face to face, once a year, no more, in the person of its taxgatherer; this is the only mode in which a man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and, in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then. My civil neighbor, the taxgatherer, is the very man I have to deal with,—for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel,—and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace…” (8).

As an act of civil disobedience, Thoreau’s refusal to pay his taxes represented more than just a dissident who disagrees with his tax dollars going to a war he does not support. Rather, it seeks to criticize all citizens who seek to use the facelessness of society to pretend that their hands are clean of the sins that government commit in their names (Carton, 1998).

The conflicting interests of the Thoreau’s neighbor illustrates this point: as a civilian, he would probably wish to treat Thoreau in an honorable manner. Yet, as a tax collector and an employee of the state, the neighbor has no choice but to condemn Thoreau as a criminal and send him to prison. When the facelessness disappears, when the walls are removed, and the artificial distances that separate people from the effects of their actions, the complicity of people in maintaining and perpetuating an unjust system is laid bare for all to see. The money you pay in taxes can be used to support an immoral war against a foreign land. The new sneakers you buy today were made possible by slave-like sweatshop conditions. Nobody truly is innocent, and the moral weight can be overwhelming. Yet, as Thoreau insists, if a person is not devoted to the cause of eradicating injustice, then the least that person can do is

“to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support” (6). 

The themes echoed in “Civil Disobedience” do more than just voice support for opposing government institutions. It also forces us to question our fundamental beliefs. If revolutionary change by individual conscience is more effective than gradual institutional change, then to what extent should we respect the laws of government in our march towards a better society? Furthermore, if personal conscience is the primary justification for change, to what extent ought we guide our decisions by our own universal moral standards if they deviate from larger society? One may perhaps find justification for Thoreau’s ideas in not just the mainstream accounts of nonviolent marches of Dr. King, but also the militant actions of John Brown, and in modern times, the violent tactics of so-called anti-fascists who seek to disrupt far-right demonstrations in cities such as Charlottesville and Berkeley. In other words, those who seek to redress what they consider to be injustice, by any means necessary. Lastly, by bringing up the example of the tax collector, Thoreau reminds the reader that, like it or not, everybody is complicit in supporting a corrupt system, until the day we suddenly decide not to. Drawing from familiar American ideas, Henry David Thoreau emerges as a distinct American voice that is influenced by, and in turn influences, radical ideas of dissent and resistance. Despite these lingering moral questions, one fact remains clear: Thoreau’s ideas are not going anywhere.


Carton, E. (1998). The Price of Privilege: “Civil Disobedience” at 50. American Scholar, Vol. 67 (4), p105-112

Donohue, J.J. (2007). Hardly the Voice of the Same Man: ‘Civil Disobedience’ and Thoreau’s Response to John Brown. The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 48 (2), p247-265

Thoreau, H.D. (1848). Resistance to Civil Government.

An American Culture Emerges Out of The Woods

By: Benjamin Nechmad

Nineteenth Century Americans were living in a young country, one that was awash with immigrants from across the ocean, bringing with them a colorful array of cultures. However, there was no apparent “American” culture that had been established due to the uniqueness and chaotic nature of the fledgling state. Ralph Waldo Emerson established a uniquely American voice by combining his experience as a pastor, the principles of freedom and independence that helped establish the country, and the sprawling and beautiful scenery that characterized the American landscape. All of the ingredients for an American culture were present and Emerson skillfully wove them together in his work Nature.

America was founded on the belief that every person should be free and allowed, as individuals, to contribute to the betterment of the country and society. Nature is fundamentally about individuality and one’s own personal ability to better themselves by comprehending the mystical and supernatural nature of the wilderness and understanding a higher sense of purpose. Once someone betters themselves, they are by default bettering the whole of society along with them. Each person, regardless of race, creed or religion, is free to contemplate and learn from the beauty that envelops them. He explains,

“Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see. All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler’s trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar’s garret. Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world.”

Emerson is highlighting the fact that everyone inhabits the same physical world and therefore, regardless of where people start out, they have the potential to establish their own personal legacy by engaging with their surroundings and actualizing their potential. This holds true whether the person is a simple blacksmith or a world-renowned scientist.

Nature, according to Emerson, is a universally accessible connection to God and ultimate fulfillment. There is no canon or dogma that can prevent the common person from connecting to the world around them in a spiritual and meaningful way. It is in this realm that the individuality of the American soul has the ability to flourish. This is where Nature is clearly seen as a fundamentally American text. No matter where a person stands in life, they have the ability to find meaning through individual contemplation of morality and self-betterment. He is speaking to an audience that only recently banded together as low-level colonists and farmers to overthrow an imperial power. The vast and unexplored North American wilderness was untainted by any classist society. According to Emerson, it could inspire anyone who was willing to open their eyes and look. The physical landscape of the country itself represented freedom and individuality, the mentality of the American people was represented by the wilderness.  Emerson explains,

“The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”

Nature is not only a “metaphor for the human mind,” it is a representation of the American spirit of individuality. Each part of nature works together in an unending cycle, much like cogs in a clock. This can also be related to the importance of each and every American and how everyone, regardless of background, is essential to the success of the country. Transcendentalism

– “Lake Squam from Red Hill” by, William Trost Richards (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1833–1905 Newport, Rhode Island)

This painting is a clear representation of the American perception of nature, namely the newly discovered landscapes that made up huge swaths of the new country. The scene is vast and brightly colored with shimmering sunlight reflected on the water. With tall mountains in the distance, the painting conveys a strong sense of hope and purpose. These characteristics are indicative of the bright future that Americans saw for themselves.

The painting also represents the aforementioned sense of individuality. Untouched by the burdens of society, nature is beautiful in its purest form, just as individual people are. Everyone is a part of nature and it is a part of us. According to Emerson, contemplating this scenery allows us to find the beauty within ourselves and understand our individual purpose.


Works Cited:

Osgood, Samuel. “Excerpts from: Samuel Osgood. “Nature.” The Western Messenger.” 1837 Review: Nature. Accessed November 07, 2017. F., Gura.

“Transcendentalism and Social Reform.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. July 30, 2012. Accessed November 07, 2017.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. James Monroe and Company, 1836.




The Paradoxical American Individual

by Jared Silverstein

In the course of daily activity, the values instilled in an individual regarding family, work, and community go largely unquestioned. How do people obtain their values, and from what traditions do they arise? At the time Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Self-Reliance, America was only in its 65th year as a nation, and with a budding society there follows many perspectives an individual can adopt to partake in such a society. During this period in Antebellum America, a common theme was arising in every facet of culture. Whether regarding literature, legislature, or religion, the prevailing American discourse implied “…the assertion of the worth of the totally liberated, atomistic, autonomous individual” (Ward 1974, 13). But with the emphasis on the individual pervading and influencing the entire society, a highly complex relationship between the individual and the nation forms. Alexis de Tocqueville very accurately assessed this complexity, bringing attention to “…the dialectic between the subjection of the individual to the national ideal and the subsequent celebration of the aggrandized self” (Haselstein 1998, 406). Tocqueville also details the uniquely American phenomenon of the market driven individual not seeing the natural landscape of the country as an aesthetic subject, but that of representing economic profitability; it follows that the Transcendental reaction to this in which the sublime is recognized in the landscape is also uniquely American (406). With this growing confusion among the American citizen as to his relationship with the nation, Emerson’s impetus for writing Self-Reliance becomes clear, as does the explanation for its provocative, persuasive, and unwavering tone. Emerson establishes in Self-Reliance the full-blown war between the divinity of the individual soul and the conformist demands of American market capitalism.

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. (3)

Emerson explicitly takes an almost combative stance against the corporate nature of American society, as he perceives it to be a direct assault on the purity of individual expression, as well as masculinity itself. Much of the content in Self-Reliance can be generalized as Emerson urging the individual to reject all notions of traditional values, and instead act upon his own convictions arrived at by aligning himself with the purity of God.

… Yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. (7)

This stress on the unassailable nature of God’s will extends from traditional notions of the American sublime, which itself is a long-standing albeit dynamic ideology, established “…to cover the entire historical space from Puritanism to Postmodernism” (Haselstein 408). Along this religious thread, Emerson details the behavior of the truly sovereign individual in relation to the family, asserting that monogamy is presumed to be virtuous (14). Despite Emerson’s constant attack on those who follow faith blindly, condemning ill-motivated philanthropy in previous passages, the religious values so deeply entrenched in the American mind seem to arise in Emerson’s declarations. The virtues that Emerson instills in the image of the self-reliant individual at times seem arbitrary in this manner.

Transcendentalists at this time reclaim the American sublime in poetics, and a prevailing notion of that ideology is how the self becomes fully realized in perceiving the boundless and infinite nature of the American landscape as well as the entire cosmos (Haselstein 412-6). Emerson’s writing serves to effectively portray this uniquely American interpretation of the sublime, writing:

For, the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. (10)

Even more fittingly, Emerson urges the consideration of the self-sufficing nature of the maturing plant, self-righting tree, or budding flower as examples by which people can derive their own notions of self-reliance (13).

The Beeches - Asher Brown Durand

 The Beeches – Asher Brown Durand. Here, the better portion of the painting is devoted to a dark portrayal of a natural setting, contrasted with a lone shepherd, illuminated by a seemingly divine light. Durand illustrates the duality of the American sublime, complementing the venerable work of the fittingly self-reliant shepherd with the romantic mysticism of the environment, almost as if it imbues him with a greater spiritual significance. The distant extent of the horizon also serves to create a boundless scope to man’s existence, very much in alignment with Emerson’s vision.

Another aspect of Self-Reliance­ is the emphasis on productivity and legacy. When arising from conformist motivations, these are the very facets of corporate American ideology Emerson aims to critique. Emerson defines a clear correlation between self-sovereignty and doing productive work, in particular original work done to a grand extent, writing, “But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work and you shall reinforce yourself” (5). He also goes on to advocate “…tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs [of the nation] out the window,” and by doing this the individual will “…restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history” (15). As market capitalism in American was taking root, “It seemed to offer a good compromise individualism that allowed coordinated force and personal greatness” (Newfield 1991, 664). From Emerson’s perspective, personal greatness is hollow when motivated by the prevailing economic and material interests instilled by the nation’s dogma; he aims to reassert the more honorable motivations of the self-sovereign individual into productivity (15).

As Emerson grapples with the concept of the American individual, the complexity of the subject becomes apparent, for Emerson could not arrive at his conclusions without being influenced by the very sentiments present in the society he is critiquing. Perhaps he would not so strongly emphasize the intrinsic need to produce great works in one’s lifetime if he was not born from a society that already stressed such virtues when it came to a collective duty. From the clear religious, agrarian, and capitalist themes present in Self-Reliance at its time of writing, an emerging uniquely American voice can be discerned.




Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882. Self-Reliance. White Plains, N.Y. :Peter Pauper Press,  1967.

Haselstein, Ulla. “Seen from a Distance: Moments of Negativity in the American Sublime (Tocqueville, Bryant, Emerson).” Amerikastudien / American Studies 43, no. 3 (1998): 405-  21.

Newfield, Christopher. “Emerson’s Corporate Individualism.” American Literary History    3, no. 4 (1991): 657-84.

Ward, John William. “Individualism: Ideology or Utopia?” The Hastings Center Studies 2,        no. 3 (1974): 11-22.



Uncertainty in “The Storm”

By Fallon Ward

Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51 ½ x 76 in. Referred to as The Oxbow, Cole paints a panoramic scene of the Connecticut River Valley as a thunderstorm approaches, or leaving, the land. On the left side, the painting is filled with gray, almost black, clouds and shattered clusters of trees and nature but as the clouds roll over into the right side of the composition, the right side of the painting shows cleared fields where a civilization resides with the open skies above. Cole’s work shows the grandeur of nature while showing it’s horrors. 

Published in 1969 in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, Chopin originally wrote “The Storm” in 1898. “The Storm” is broken into short chapters that follows the events that take place in one day during a storm in a Louisiana town. At the center of the storm is fear, romance, adultery, and betrayals. But while the storm can be as damaging as the lies, the passionate descriptions of such destructive nature makes the readers uncertain of how to read and understand her story.

In the first chapter, Bobinôt with his son, Bibi, are trapped inside a local store as a storm rages on outside. Chopin emphasis the power as well as the fear of nature by describing the storm within the first lines of the chapter.

“The leaves were so still that even Bibi thought it was going to rain. Bobinôt, who was accustomed to converse on terms of perfect equality with his little son, called the child’s attention to certain sombre clouds that were rolling with sinister intention from the west, accompanied by a sullen, threatening roar.” (Chopin 1)

While Bibi and his father wait in the store with the bags of shrimp purchased for his mother Calixta, Bibi mentions that he thinks his mother will be afraid since she is home alone in the storm. Allen Stein states by writing Bibi and Bobinôt running errands for Calixta and expressing concern for her safety, it’s an ideal family situation that makes the events in the story more shocking and confusing for a reader to comprehend. “[Chopin] might just as likely be suggesting the sheer sweetness of the man and implying in advance that any woman who would betray such a man is doing something reprehensible” (Stein 54). The moral ambiguity and the “kaleidoscopic” use of the storm, Stein says, in the story begins after this moment between father and son as Chopin then turns the story’s attention to Calixta.

In the second chapter, while Bobinôt and Bibi are stuck in the shop, Chopin turns to Calixta as she works diligently at home. The power of the fearsome storm seems to escape Calixta until a guest arrives at her home seeking refugee from the storm. The visitor is a former beau of hers, Alcée Laballière, who is also married. While the storm rages outside, Calixta and Alcée have intercourse in the house, both overwhelmed by each other in the chaotic, powerful rush of the storm, a description of sensuality that Emily Toth notes as “hardly typical of the genteel 1890’s” (Toth 658).

“They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms. She was a revelation in that dim, mysterious chamber; as white as the couch she lay upon. Her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright, was like a creamy lily that the sun invites to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying life of the world” (Chopin 2).

While Bibi and Bobinôt are trapped in the storm, Calixta laughs at it while she engages in an affair. As Stein suggests, Chopin is writing about the dichotomies of storms. Storms can be frightening but also magnificent. “Is it (and is nature generally), merely indifferent to human well-being, a blind force, brute, and dangerous, or is it something akin to a lifeforce, potentially dangerous, of course, but beautiful and enriching, a power with which to align oneself, body and spirit, despite the carping of stifling convention?” (Stein 55). This dichotomy Chopin addresses is further underlined at the beginning of the third chapter after Calixta and Alcée have finished their sinful activities, the storm subsides and reveals a scenic landscape.

“The rain was over; and the sun was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems. Calixta, on the gallery, watched Alcée ride away. He turned and smiled at her with a beaming face; and she lifted her pretty chin in the air and laughed aloud” (Chopin 3).

After committing adultery, Calixta is not struck down by lightening or caught by her husband and son but rather greeted with a ‘palace of gems’ as Alcée rides away on his horse. Chopin doesn’t punish the sinners and doesn’t allow for the caring husband to know of his wife’s treachery. The storm covers the town in a dark cloud but by the end of the story, it reveals sublime nature as Calixta and Alcée collide in a cataclysm. Violent storms like the one Chopin describes often leave a wake of destruction in its path much like the chaos that ensues when extramarital affairs occur but the conventional and traditional conceptions of affairs and sexuality as well as storms don’t apply in “The Storm” like Toth said before. Furthermore, the last line of the story leaves the consequences of Calixta unknown and the reader’s judgement of affairs unclear.

“So the storm passed and everyone was happy” (Chopin 5)

The moral ambiguity of Chopin’s story and use of natural disasters like storms that was unlike what her contemporaries were doing make “The Storm” a unique tale of contradictions and dichotomies but like mentioned before, the story was not known until a 1969 publication. Dana Gioia, when introducing “The Storm”, ponders that because of some of Chopin’s earlier work like her famous The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour” that explored the complex female characters similar to Calixta in 19th century setting, works like “The Storm” may have been censored. “She began to bring into American fiction some […] hard-eyed observations and passion for telling unpleasant truths. Determined, in defiance of her times, frankly to show sexual feelings of her characters, Chopin suffered from neglect and censorship. […] Many of her stories had to wait seven decades for a sympathetic audience” (Gioia 115). The unusual use of the storm as a tool of devastation and creation as well as the exploration of forbidden sexuality make “The Storm” a unique story in that it defies the standard notion of how nature and women were written around in the 1890’s but unfortunately was not appreciated upon its conception.


Chopin, Kate. “”The Storm”.” 1898. American Literature. Website.

Gioia, Dana. Literature: Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.

Stein, Allen. “The Kaleidoscope of Truth: A New Look at Chopin’s “The Storm”.” American Literary Realism (2003): 51-64. Print.

Toth, Emily. “The Independent Woman and “Free” Love.” The Massachusetts Review (1975): 647-664.

Death as the One True Freedom for Women

By: Melissa Wilson

Emily Dickinson was one of the most influential writers of the 19th century and was not even recognized when she was alive. She was a devoted conservative Christian woman from Massachusetts and did not come into contact with many people. Many of her poems revolved around death and the afterlife in an attempt to answer the unknown questions. Her “poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England”, why she was attracted to writing about death. As a woman of the nineteenth century, she also struggled to be taken seriously as a writer. Although her work is not viewed by Civil War critics as credible, she spent half her writing career writing poems about death during the war (Faust 204). Many of her works have an emerging theme of death and feminism, alluding to that was what was on her mind during her lifetime. 

        Two of Dickinson’s major themes in her poems is the afterlife and the struggles of being a woman.  Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War attempts to help the reader understand the meaning of death during the Civil War and how it was handled by nineteenth-century Americans.  Dickinson “wondered where she might find heaven” (Faust 206) and created possibile outcomes for the afterlife. She found death liberating, not necessarily as final curtain-call for Americans. As a woman, it was difficult to be taken seriously by other writers at the time; which she explains in her poem They Shut Me up in Prose. She writes  “As when a little Girl/They put me in the Closet –/Because they liked me “still””  explaining the male dominance in her life that constrained her from expressing herself and remained “still”. In the poem The Soul Selects Her Own Society, Dickinson grapples with idea that death is a liberation for women to finally have a choice and be free from their social constraints that men put upon them. 

“The soul selects her own society
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —”

The first line and title  “the soul selects her own society”, addresses death and feminism first-hand. The soul’s gender is a woman with the pronouns “her” and “she”. The “soul” in this poem once belonged to a woman that lived on Earth. By the “soul” choosing where she wants to be in the after-life gives the soul a greater autonomy than the human form it once possessed. Once the “soul” decides the “society” they “shut the door–” on all other options. This emphasizes the absoluteness of the soul’s decision when choosing a society. The soul is “unmoved” by any other by any other religious figures that try to sway her. The “soul” had high standards because she finally has a choice in something. 

“Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —”

           Because the soul is a woman, her having a choice means more to her, why she is so selective in where she wants to reside in the after-life. Women of the nineteenth century did not have a lot of autonomy in their life, but once they passed they ascend into the afterlife where they are “freed” from the social constraints they had as human. The poem emphasizes the soul’s selection because this is essentially the first time in her “life” that she was able to make a decision on their own without any male influence.

“I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —”

       The third stanza of the poem creates a shift in the subject to “I”, where the speaker of the poem presents their opinion of the soul. The “I” represents the old human-form of the soul poetically before her death. She says, “I’ve known her — from an ample nation–”.  The “ample nation” is Earth before they die, more specifically the United States. The speaker then emphasizes the soul will “choose one/Then — close the Valves of her attention —/Like Stone–”  The soul is strong and stable like a “stone” and now that she is finally freed from human constraints she can pursue anything she desires. Now she is able to wander free and devote her “attention” on what she desires. The “soul” knows what was true in her human form’s heart and plans to pursue them in the afterlife. 

Artist: John George Brown in 1870, oil on canvas.
This painting depicts a courting ritual between a man and a woman in the late nineteenth century. Music a way for men and women to spend quality time together and this was a way men would woo women into marriage. In the painting, you can see the man has control in teaching the woman how to play this flute-like instrument. This furthers the control men had in courting rituals with women. It does not show she is being forced into playing the instrument, but the man is instructing the woman. Relating this to The Soul Selects Her Own Society it’s unknown if the woman in the painting wants to play this instrument or be pursued by this man. The outlook for this woman is that after she passes, her soul will ascend into the after-life and follow her own desires.

       This poem was a hopeful rhetoric for women, to look forward to the day they would be free to make their own choices. The message is that their soul would follow their true desires in their mortal life, and will pursue them in the afterlife. Staff.  Emily Dickinson. Academy of American Poets
Constance B. Rynder The Seneca Falls Convention. American History Magazine. April 1999. 
Drew Faust 
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp.  2008
John Geroge Brown. The Music Lesson. 1870.
Emily Dickinson They Shut me Up in Prose. Poetry Foundation.1951,1955… 

How Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel started the Civil War and shifted American culture

By Leonardo Reyes

Many historians will say that the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 indefinitely resulted in the Civil War.  However, some may argue that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” resulted in the Southern states secession from the Union.  It is even said that when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he allegedly even said, “So this is the little lady that made this big war”.  How did could the publishing of a book result in America’s deadliest war?  Stowe’s writing was able to both increase abolitionism in the north and inflame the southerners with her vivid depictions of slavery.

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe is able to describe the suffering and anguish that Slaves faced prior to the Civil War, and she uses her kind and gentle protagonist, Uncle Tom, to successfully display the agony that the slaves had to persevere through and that the Northerners were ignorant to.  Towards the latter end of the novel, Tom is bought by a cruel and ruthless plantation owner named Simon Legree who viciously beats his slaves and works them to death.  Tom is constantly beat by Legree, but Tom maintains his strength and will in the face of pure evil, which is shown in chapter 33 when Tom is confronted by Legree, Stowe writes,

“In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom’s soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,

“No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it, – ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; – no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!” (Stowe 374).

Tom’s iron will makes him a character that the northerners can root for and can have them desire to have his story conclude in happiness.  However, Stowe is aware that all slaves did not end their lives in happiness and she uses Tom to display how harsh and unforgiving the live of a slave was.  Tom is ordered to be savagely beat to death by Legree, seeing Uncle Tom murdered in cold blood primarily could be the reason why the Northerners choose to partake in abolitionism and looked to free the slaves.  So Tom is essentially a fictional martyr who died in order to awake the Northerners to the realities of the slaves’ lives entrapped by slavery.  

Stowe also utilizes another character, Eliza Harris, in order to display how traumatic and devastating it is to be separated from your family.  Eliza Harris a young enslaved woman who is married with a young son named Harry.  She lives a somewhat privileged life for a slave, however when he master sells her son, she has no choice but escape with her son.  This leads to one of the most famous moments of the novel, where she has to go across a river in the winter on a block of ice in order to escape recapture, Stowe writes,

With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;–stumbling–leaping–slipping–springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone–her stocking cut form her feet–while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank” (Stowe 61)

Eliza Harris’ character having her feet cut to shreds by ice in order to escape with her son is efficiently used by Stowe in order to have Northern mother’s sympathize with Eliza Harris and have consider the emotional pains they would face if they were to lose their child.  


This painting portrays the famous scene in the novel where Eliza Harris is forced to escape slavery in order to avoid recapture and having to give away her young son, Harry.  This certain scene gains its notoriety from the perseverance and determination that a mother has in order to defend her innocent child from the pain and suffering that will slavery inevitably bring to him.  Literary critics criticize Eliza Harris for being a character that lacks depth, and is solely used to have Northern readers sympathize with the fictional character.  Nevertheless, having the Northerners sympathize with her characters, Stowe is able to bring the horrors of slavery to the Northerners and convince them to bring an end to slavery.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work is distinctly an American classic as it is deeply ingrained in America’s history just as slavery is.  But it’s legacy is not solely defined by it’s content.  It also has characters that northern readers in the past sympathized with, and even readers today can still sympathize with them.  As well as a harsh but reality driven style of writing that did not shy away from exposing the pain and suffering that slaves were forced to face in their lives.  


Reynolds, David. “Reynolds: Did a book start the Civil War?” NY Daily News, 11 Apr. 2011,

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. London :J. Cassell, 1852. Print.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin,

Wellington, Darryl Lorenzo. “Uncle Tom’s Shadow.” The Nation, 29 June 2015,