Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Class Differences in the Chicago experience reflecting Gilded Age transformation

One aspect of the Chicago experience that reflects the Gilded Age transformation is the expanding existence of various class differences. Class differences were found throughout the country, especially in big cities, during the Gilded Age. The gap between the poor and wealthy grew during the Gilded Age and this is notable when discussing class differences. The class differences caused much turmoil with uprisings and discontent felt by many during the Gilded Age. The negative feelings of the underprivileged people came out in various actions such as strikes, riots, and crime.
As discussed in, The Devil in the White City, workers struck at various points during the construction of the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago but Burnham didn’t mind too much. There were other eager workers who weren’t organized with unions who could replace these “troublesome” workers. Some of these working-class people were unhappy with their working conditions and the low pay that their wealthy bosses afforded for them. These were vital concerns that they hoped to get resolved or at least improved through striking.
Class discrepancies were demonstrated at the World’s Fair of 1893. For example, the “Midway” portion of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 featured a, “…contrast between ‘manly civilization’ and savagery…” (Gilded Age, 211). Various ethnic groups from around the world were “brought in” to live in “villages” like the ones of their home countries for Americans to view and learn about. Algerians and Egyptians were examples of people on exhibit. These people were viewed as "lower" and could not ever elevate themselves to the upper echelons of society.
The “Midway’s” legacy of the Columbian Exposition can be realized in, “Like Coney Island, the Wild West show, the circus, vaudeville, and minstrel shows, dime novels, popular music, and sports, it [the Midway] illustrated the Gilded Age preoccupation with race, particularly with the alleged inferiority of African Americans.” (Gilded Age, 205)
Class disparages were the source of crime in Chicago and other big cities during the Gilded Age. Poor youth sometimes stole food and other necessary items for survival because they did not have the money to buy it as they lived in poverty. In contrast, extravagant menus, showcased in Larson’s The Devil in the White City, were served at the meals of the Fair’s “bosses.” The filthy conditions of Chicago’s poorer areas spread disease, often times water-born, easily. Also, the carcasses of animals were left in the streets and wound up in the area near where the city’s in-take water supply existed! Reformers did try to combat these class disparages through advocating for better living conditions for the poor.
Moreover, some aspects of Gilded Age entertainment provided for the enjoyment of wealthy people and some for the poor. Not all entertainment was meant for everyone and this offers another example of class differences being widened. For example, upper-class people attended the opera, rode the “Ferris Wheel” at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and sat in the nicer areas of theaters. On the other end of the class spectrum, the working-class enjoyed fighting sports such as boxing and animal fighting. They also attended minstrel shows in urban areas. Many immigrants could relate to immigrant stories/struggles portrayed in some of the acts of vaudeville.

No comments:

Post a Comment