How has multiculturalism affected American Literature since the Civil War?How has multiculturalism affected American Literature since the Civil War?
I think that the term "multiculturalism" was not necessarily used until well after the Civil War. Yet, the basic ideas in the expansion of voice could be seen as early as the works of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. The need for African- American voices to emerge starts this process of multiculturalism. Both Washington and DuBois discuss the different paths that African- Americans can take in order to fulfill their own narratives. James Weldon Johnson followed by the growth of the Harlem Renaissance also help to fulfill the tenets of multiculturalism. The idea of bringing out different cultural experiences is something that was extremely vital to the Harlem Renaissance. In this, multicultural identity was present.
For the most part, after the Civil War, American Literature understood cultural expression to represent the African- American predicament. The presence of other cultures such as Latino identity as well as Asian- American identity does not emerge until after World War II. In this, multiculturalism is seen as a movement with a limited focus in American Literature, but one that still was present in seeking to broaden the experience of "America" in ways that did strove to bring more voices into the discourse.
The voices of American literature since the Civil War have become much more diverse. Obviously the first voices we began to hear after that particular moment in history were those of slaves and free African-Americans. Their collective voice grew to a crescendo in the 1920s and '30s with the Harlem Renaissance, and it is now a consistent voice in anthologies and syllabi in American lit classrooms around the country. The next voices to be heard were those of women, as they struggled for their emancipation, so to speak, before they earned the right to vote as well as after, well into the twentieth century. The last additions to the Americal literature cannon were the voices of other non-white cultures. We heard earliest from the Native Americans and continue through the present with writing from every culture imaginable. The result of these changes is a more diverse curriculum, of course; that means more modern works as well as more "multicultural" works are now included in most American lit classrooms.
I think that the Civil War gave authors the power and desire to voice their personal opinions and desires more openly. I do not necessarily think that it was simply based upon the Civil War, but the circumstances which followed as well. There are many great turning points in history for authors and artists of all races and genealogies. For example, the Civil Rights movement allowed African-American and gender writers to stake a place in literary history.
Many times, in literature, it was the emmergence of a period as a rebuttal to the previous period which brought forth novel ideologies. Piggy-backing upon the disapproval of previous periods seemed to be one of the things which most chagned and defined literature.
Multiculturalism, in my opinion, has greatly benefitted American literature since the civil war. Many new and splendid voices can be heard today in ways that were not really possible before the civil war. African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and members of other "minority" groups have contributed richly to American literature, and all Americans have benefitted from their contributions. American literature would be significantly poorer without the contributions of such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, M. Scott Momaday, Amy Tan, and numerous others.
I love how the Negro spirituals and the quilts the slave women sewed were cleverly disguised escape plans/maps to the North. It was a way of getting a message out there in a perfect genre for the field slaves--art, music and oral history. This paved the way for other immigrants in America to tell their own stories and share experiences which often differ from those of the majority population. Of course, even women were considered a minority at the time...women's rights, thoughts, and voices are also part of "multiculturalism".
Literature is always a reflection of history and culture, of a peoples' identity, but since the Civil War, with the proliferation of writers of color from many backgrounds and experiences, I believe that reflection has become more honest and accurate. Literature has also become a vehicle to validate minority cultures, and to, for lack of a better word, "process our grief" over the injustice, genocide and slavery in the darker periods of our history. It airs our dirty laundry, which is healthy for any culture in my opinion.
You will want to look at the rise in the number of voices who are not "dead white American males." Certainly, the way in which modern American literature now includes a number of African-American, Hispanic and Chinese-American voices, to give just three examples, gives ample proof of the way in which American literature has become more multicultural.
Since you mention the civil war, the first thing that came to mind for me was that Americans had to accept African Americans as people with their own culture, not as animals. Of course, there were also many other immigrants at the time. Everyone who was not white was still discriminated against.