Monday, November 19, 2012

On the threshold of the twentieth century.

Flow of History has been reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson which looks at the best and the worst of the Gilded Age. It is a depiction of America on the threshold of the twentieth century. While The Devil in the White City might not be exactly what students should be reading, Carl Sandburg's poem, Chicago, provides an opportunity to study these contrasts.

Begin by analyzing the poem with your students. Read it out loud. Discuss personification and find examples in the poem.  How does Sandburg describe Chicago?

Assign students portions of the poem to illustrate with historical photographs. The Library of Congress has a collection of photographs from the Chicago Daily News.


by Carl Sandburg

        Hog Butcher for the World,
        Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
        Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
        Stormy, husky, brawling,
        City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your
     painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: yes, it is true I have seen
     the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women
     and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my
     city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be
     alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall
     bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted
     against the wilderness,
        Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his 
     ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked,
     sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
     Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

For more detailed ideas, see this lesson plan on Edsitement.

The World's Columbian Exposition is another topic that allows for analysis of the best and worst of the Gilded Age and a look at the America on the cusp of modernization. Compare images from the Columbian Exposition with the images of Chicago. What are the contrasts?

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