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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Power: Taming the Octopus
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Images of the Octopus, five cartoons
Text 2. Standard Oil
Text 3. The Octopus in the West
Text 4. The Populist Party Platform [Omaha Platform]
Text 5. The Pullman Strike
Text 6. Jack London, South of the Slot
» Reading Guide
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Text 7. The Boss and the Reformer
Text 8. Images of Big City Politics
Text 9. Social Policy: Social Darwinism vs. the Social Gospel
Text 10. Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism
Text 11. African American Strategies
Text 12. Women and Power

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Jack London
Jack London
Jack London, "South of the Slot," short story, Saturday Evening Post, 22 May 1909

First published in The Saturday Evening Post, this story reflects many of the themes of this section and, indeed, of the entire toolbox—the struggle for power, class anxieties, labor unrest, professionalization, the role of women, and worry over lost vitality. (See EMPIRE.) The "Slot" is a literal and metaphoric divide, separating San Francisco's well-to-do from its working classes. Freddie Drummond—a reserved, cool, inhibited sociologist—ventures across it to study the laborers who live there. He is a thoroughgoing intellectual, yet he once played football and boxed. He still possesses a powerful, athletic body that emerges as the hallmark of Big Bill Totts, his working-class alter ego, who enjoys the adrenaline, the drama, and the power he learns to wield in championing workers' rights. When Drummond as Big Bill falls in love with Mary Condon—a "graceful," "sinewy" labor organizer with "amazing black eyes"—he realizes that he is in danger of having his alter ego take over his life. He decides to anchor himself safely north of the Slot by marrying the proper Catherine Van Vorst. In the story's violent conclusion, workers fight police, and the protagonist decides if he is Freddie or Big Bill. Good for use with students. 8 pages.

Two references in the story need explanation. "A Message to Garcia" (1898)—written by Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), an editor, publisher, and business booster—appeared originally in The Philistine magazine. Later published as a book, forty million copies were in circulation by 1913. Hubbard's story praises the single-minded, unquestioning determination of U.S. Army Lieutenant Andrew S. Rowan, who overcame mountains and jungles to carry a message Cuban General Calixto García arranging for military cooperation between Cuban and American armies in the Spanish-American War. Employers distributed the "Message" to their workers to promote loyalty and perseverance and to discourage union sympathies. It is still considered a classic of business literature.

"Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" (1901), the best known work of Louisville writer Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice (1870-1942), tells the story of a family that survives poverty through good-natured endurance. Enormously popular, it has been filmed three times. The 1934 version starred W. C. Fields.

Discussion questions
  1. What is significant in Drummond's inability to malinger during his early jobs?
  2. Why does the narrator constantly refer to the titles of the books Drummond writes?
  3. Compare Mary Condon with Catherine Van Vorst.
  4. What different sorts of power does the story illustrate?
  5. What does the world south of the Slot represent?
  6. What causes Drummond's transformation?

» Link

Topic Framing Question
  •  How did Americans respond to the shifts in economic and political power that occurred during this period?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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Revised: May 2005