Mark Twain coined the term Gilded Age to describe the last three decades of the 19th century. What did he mean by this term and explain the people, events, and ideas of the period that made it...

Mark Twain coined the term Gilded Age to describe the last three decades of the 19th century. What did he mean by this term and explain the people, events, and ideas of the period that made it gilded. 

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The Gilded Age, named by Mark Twain in his book The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today (1873), was a response to the notion of the Golden Age, a term circulated at the time to describe an era of prosperity and economic growth that would follow the Civil War.

Gilding is the practice of covering a metal of lesser value with a thin layer of gold on the outside, obscuring the metal underneath and making the object look as if it is made of gold. In regards to the Gilded Age, the metaphor extends to the deep social problems in the United States in the late nineteenth century that were seemingly veiled by extravagant shows of wealth.

The Gilded Age was spurred by a rapid increase in wealth in the United States caused by the end of the Civil War, expansion of cities and trade, seemingly unlimited resources, and the economic upheaval that came to define the era. At the time, the expansion of the railroads was facilitating trade to areas that were economically inviable before. As a result, cities began to expand, and the railroad model of financing began to work its way into the public arena. Private financial systems, rather than governmental systems, became the norm.

However, the time period also saw a rapid increase in immigration to the United States, followed by xenophobia and vast inequality. The South remained devastated after the Civil War, largely missing out on the Reconstruction Era, and the burgeoning financial system was causing financial and political upheaval during the Panics of 1873 and 1893, giving the age its plain metal inside.

Mark Twain wrote the novel in 1873, but it wasn’t until half a century later that historians would deem this period the Gilded Age. Ultimately, it was the inequality and the indifference of those with wealth that would come to define the time.