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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Memory: Civil War Memory and American Nostalgia
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Memory
Text 1. Winslow Homer
Text 2. Hamlin Garland
Text 3. Joel Chandler Harris
» Reading Guide
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Text 4. Jane Addams
Text 5. Robert G. Ingersoll
Text 6. Re-Union and the Railroad
Text 7. Visions of the West
Text 8. Owen Wister

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Joel Chandler Harris
Harris, ca. 1900
Joel Chandler Harris, "Aunt Fountain's Prisoner," short story, March 1887

Like Garland's story, this one narrates the return of a Union soldier to a farm, only the soldier is a cavalryman, not an infantryman, and the farm is a plantation in Georgia, not a hillside plot in Wisconsin. Joel Chandler Harris, most famous for his Uncle Remus stories, was one of the numerous local color writers who dominated the American literary scene in the late nineteenth century. With the nation reunited, Americans satisfied their curiosity about the country's varied regions through stories that capitalized on local peculiarities. As perhaps the nation's most exotic locale, the South had more than its share of local colorists. Unlike other practitioners of the art, however, Southern local colorists walked a literary tightrope. On one hand, their regional loyalties prevented them from admitting that the South was wrong in taking up arms. On the other hand, they could not afford to be so unapologetic that they alienated their northern readers. While not disowning the South, they had to show that the South accepted its defeat and was now ready to be part of the Union once again. In "Aunt Fountain's Prisoner" Joel Chandler Harris walks this tightrope with perfect balance. In the story the South confirms its fundamental good sense by accepting the democratic equality and efficiency of the North, and the North confirms its wisdom by embracing the culture and grace of the South. All this mingling establishes the Trunion (true-union?) family on an old plantation in Georgia. If your students can handle the dialect, this might be a good story to use with them. 10 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. The narrator surrounds Aunt Fountain's telling of the Trunion story with reminiscences of the Tomlinson Place and an account of a recent visit there. What is the function of the frame story?
  2. How does Harris present the antebellum South? the postwar South? Why does he present them as he does?
  3. Why is it important to have Aunt Fountain tell Trunion's story?
  4. How does Harris define Southern character? Northern character? American character?
  5. What argument does this story make to northern readers?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  In the aftermath of the Civil War, how did Americans look back and look forward?
  •  During this period, how did Americans promote the re-union of the nation?
  •  How did they reconceptualize their sense of national identity?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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