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Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Notes (1863); Mary Chesnut, A Diary From Dixie (1861-65)

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  1. Alcott, Chesnut, and the Civil War
  2. Aspects of the Civil War

The Civil War is just the most important thing in American cultural and social history?as well as political and military history, of course?since the War of Independence from Great Britain. It is, quite simply, fundamental to America's identity and sensibility, and it remains so to this day.

[...] This became notorious, with many upper class conscripts getting out of fighting by employing working class or emigrant people to go instead. So, a whole tier of people got away without fighting, in effect, by getting others, with less money, to take their place. Another way this theme manifests itself in One of Alcott's text is via amputation. Many of the patients in the hospital are amputees, which is historically appropriate, as the Civil War in fact was known for producing a greater number of amputees. [...]

[...] *The first is obvious, and is simply that when you compare the two columns, you see that there's a direct opposition, if not antagonism, btw each term and the one facing it. *The second is that when you read the table vertically, column by column, you'll find that what you have here are two metonymic chains. This is a staple lit. crit term The point is that these terms go hand in hand and thus evoke each other ?Feminist/anti-feminist? is a skyhook [This will come up when we read The Bostonians.] 4. [...]

[...] The men did the picturesque, and did it so well that Washington looked like a mammoth masquerade. Spanish hats, scarlet lined riding cloaks, swords and sashes, high boots and bright spurs, beards and mustaches, which made plain faces comely, and comely faces heroic; these vanities of the flesh transformed our butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers in gallant riders of gaily caparisoned horses, much handsomer than themselves; and dozens of such figures were constantly prancing by, with private prickings of spurs, for the benefit of the perambulating flower bed. [...]

[...] The Emancipation Proclamation, of 1863. (On time line.) People argue bitterly about whether this was done as a matter of principle or as an act of desperation by the North, who weren't doing very well in the War at the time. Either way, at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, in 1862, as this gave way to 1863, a bill came into effect legally abolishing slavery throughout the United States, whether in the North or in the South. [...]

[...] What this tells you is that you could oppose the North, and, to some extent at least, be opposed to slavery as well. Where you'd differ from Northerners and northern abolitionists is in the means necessary and justified in bringing slavery to an end. Chesnut's idea, in fact, was that the North was in the for itself, and wasn't fighting out of principle all. She sees it as essentially an act of imperialism by people she regards as ?foreigners.? (At one point she calls them ?foreign invaders.?) So, for Southerners' especially, it was a war about States' Rights. [...]

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