What does the "literature of argument" includes in American literature?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literature of Argument surfaced throughout the intense social and demographic changes taking place in America between 1865 and 1914. At this point literature had witness and documented major historical events such as the Reconstruction, the end of the Victorian Era, the assassination of Lincoln, racism, political upheaval, and the first World War, among several others.

America reached the height of glamour and financial stability toward the beginning of the 20th century, and the media surfaced as a strong documentarian of the times, acquiring strength as wealth grew. However, marginalized and minority groups hardly ever found a voice within society, even with the medium being available.

Therefore, a movement surfaced where the very marginalized groups came together to express their frustration at the lack of social balance, at social injustice, and at the real situations taking place in society.

The Norton Anthology of American literature describes literature of argument as a response to social unrest, where:

...a generation of writers spoke out against social, economic, and political injustices in newspapers and magazines.

This movement gave rise to other forms of social expression in writing that still is felt in modern times. Some of the journalists known among the literature of argument movement were dubbed“muckrakers”

for their devotion to exposing the dangers of the city and the evils of monopolies...on behalf of small farmers, and Lincoln Steffens, who exposed the corruption of government officials like Boss Tweed of New York.

The movement included non-fiction prose, fiction, historical fiction in satire (essays, comic commentary, pictures), and historical non-fiction. Therefore, literature of argument occupies a significant role in American Literature because it opened the doors to plenty writers from all walks of life and sectors to express the realities of the American business, social, and political scenes. It therefore includes:

Social commentary in books (non-fiction) such as Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor (1881), which attacked U.S. injustices against Native Americans, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898)- wealth and women’s rights, and Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) which exposed the greed of magnates.

Autobiography and Biography, historical non-fiction, anecdotals, reflections, and memoirs such as Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery (1900) and Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903) which challenged people to react to social and racial injustices.

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