Historical Context

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American Humorists in the Nineteenth Century Popular American literature in the decades preceding the twentieth century included plenty of adventure novels, like those of Robert Louis Stevenson, and humorous works, like the novels of Mark Twain, which often parodied the emerging American culture. Another popular form was the simple short...

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American Humorists in the Nineteenth Century
Popular American literature in the decades preceding the twentieth century included plenty of adventure novels, like those of Robert Louis Stevenson, and humorous works, like the novels of Mark Twain, which often parodied the emerging American culture. Another popular form was the simple short story with a trick ending, like O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," in which a young couple's good intentions result in a debacle of Christmas gift-giving. Stockton was considered a humorist, and his stories often combined elements of humor with the trick ending. His children's collection, Tin-a-ling, was widely regarded to have brought children's literature into a new era, with his reliance on plots that did not have happy endings even though they were styled after Grimm's fairy tales and bore some similarity with Lewis Carroll's writings.

In his time, Stockton was hailed as the equal of Mark Twain; in 1899 he came in fifth in a poll listing the best living American writers. He used humor for illustrative purposes: "Many of his stories virtually cry out in stifled screams against the cozy suffocation of civilized conduct,'' said Henry Golemba in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. In the 1860s, Stockton's first published works appeared in Punchinello, Hearth and Home, and Puck, all humor magazines that had a wide following in an era before other forms of mass media became available. Writers often got their start in these magazines, or in newspapers, as Mark Twain did as a reporter. Magazines presented new stories every week or every month, and they often serialized novels, printing a chapter each issue to get readers hooked on the magazine. Such publications were important in a time before the establishment of public libraries or the proliferation of bookstores.

The Pre-Raphaelites Influence Literature
The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of British artists, led by Gabriel Dante Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, who gained influence during the 1850s. Their paintings were known for their fairy-tale-like settings that were often influenced by literature—especially poetry—and music. The Pre-Raphaelites' name was intended to display their preference for the idealized art reminiscent of the era before Raphael, an Italian master of the High Renaissance. Their paintings often depicted beautiful women in sweeping gowns, maidens courted by valiant knights, and damsels surrounded by overgrown English gardens. This artistic movement influenced writers as well. In literature, writers who were familiar with the Pre-Raphaelites gained popularity through works that had strong elements of fantasy to it, like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and J.M. Barne's Peter Pan.

Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" can be seen as being a part of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, with its fairy-tale overtones of a kingdom, a princess, and a valiant suitor. Stockton's stories for children also fit this pattern. Unlike the Pre-Raphaelites' paintings, however, the fantasy literature of the day often included elements of absurdity or irony, as any reader of Lewis Carroll knows. Golemba summarized one of Stockton's children's stories: "after the heroine is beheaded inadvertently by the hero, her head is magically reattached to her body—but backwards." Such irreverence was typical of American humorists, whose displeasure of the modern, mechanized world was to resort to absurdity rather than evoke a long bygone era of art and literature, as was the practice of the Pre-Raphaelites.

As the twentieth-century dawned, and as Stockton feared, his work became a relic of a fast-disappearing age. New tensions that eventually erupted into World War I brought about new styles of literature—especially modernism—and new styles of art, such as cubism and expressionism. The comical, slightly detached view of the world as exercised by Stockton, Twain, and other American humorists came to be seen as quaint and not relevant enough to people dealing with the tragedies of modern life.

Social Sensitivity

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623

Popular American literature in the decades preceding the twentieth century included plenty of adventure novels, like those of Robert Louis Stevenson, and humorous works, like the novels of Mark Twain, which often parodied the emerging American culture. Another popular form was the simple short story with a trick ending, like O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," in which a young couple's good intentions result in a debacle of Christmas gift-giving. Stockton was considered a humorist, and his stories often combine elements of humor with the trick ending. His children's collection, Tinga- ling, was widely regarded as having brought children's literature into a new era, with his reliance on plots that did not have happy endings even though they were styled after the Grimms' fairy tales and bore some similarity to Lewis Carroll's writings.

In his time Stockton was hailed as the equal of Mark Twain; in 1899 he came in fifth in a poll listing the best living American writers. He used humor for illustrative purposes: "Many of his stories virtually cry out in stifled screams against the cozy suffocation of civilized conduct," said Henry Golemba in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. In the 1860's Stockton's first published works appeared in Punchinello, Hearth and Home, and Puck, all humor magazines with wide followings in an era before other forms of mass media. It was in these magazines that writers got their start, or in newspapers, as Mark Twain did as a reporter. Magazines presented new stories every week or every month, and they often serialized novels, printing a chapter each issue to get readers hooked on the magazine. Such publications were important in a time before the establishment of public libraries or the proliferation of bookstores.

The pre-Raphaelites were a group of British artists, led by Gabriel Dante Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, who gained influence during the 1850's. Their paintings were known for their fairy-tale settings, which were often influenced by literature— especially poetry—and music. The pre- Raphaelites' name was intended to display their preference for the idealized art reminiscent of the era before Raphael, an Italian master of the High Renaissance. Their paintings often depicted beautiful women in sweeping gowns, maidens courted by valiant knights, and damsels surrounded by overgrown English gardens. This artistic movement influenced writers as well. In literature, writers who were familiar with the pre-Raphaelites gained popularity through works with strong elements of fantasy, like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" can be seen as deriving in part from the pre- Raphaelite tradition, with its fairy-tale overtones of a kingdom, a princess, and a valiant suitor. Stockton's stories for children also fit this pattern. Unlike the pre-Raphaelites' paintings, however, the fantasy literature of the day often included elements of absurdity or irony, as any reader of Lewis Carroll knows. Golemba summarized one of Stockton's children's stories: "After the heroine is beheaded inadvertently by the hero, her head is magically reattached to her body—but backwards." Such irreverence was typical of American humorists, who expressed their displeasure with the modern, mechanized world by resorting to absurdity rather than evoking a bygone era of art and literature, as was the practice of the pre-Raphaelites.

As the twentieth century dawned, and as Stockton feared, his work became a relic of a fast-disappearing age. New tensions that eventually erupted into World War I brought about new styles of literature—especially modernism—and new styles of art, such as cubism and expressionism. The comical, slightly detached view of the world as exercised by Stockton, Twain, and other American humorists came to be seen as quaint and not relevant to people coping with the tragedy of warfare and the uncertainty of modern life.

Compare and Contrast

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 207

1881: Animals are not protected from human exploitation. P. T. Barnum and his partner, James Bailey, form the Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose mam attraction is Jumbo, an African elephant they bought in London. Their traveling show delights thousands across the United States.

1990s: Tigers and other animals are protected as endangered species. Tigers are frequently raised in captivity and live in zoos or are trained as circus animals. Several breeds of tigers became extinct during the twentieth century. By 1996, there are only twenty to thirty remaining South China tigers.

1880s: Capital punishment is practiced throughout the world and in the United States, though public executions are not as common as they once were. However, some efforts to abolish the death penalty have succeeded. By the 1880s, the state of Michigan and the countries of Venezuela and Portugal have outlawed capital punishment.

1990s: Many states have reinstated the death penalty. By 1997, it is allowed in all but thirteen states and the District of Columbia. Accepted methods for carrying out death sentences include hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, the firing squad, and lethal injection. Capital punishment has been abolished in Europe and many other countries, with the United States, China, and Japan the world's most prominent death penalty proponents.

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