Integration and Education: The Search for Identity Post-Civil War


  • Lis Sodl


Prior to the Civil War, American identity was grounded in community, hard
work, and a connection to the land. One woke up, did what one had to do, and
kissed one’s family before bed. Within literature, life was simple and idealistic—
full of romanticization of the land and of its people. Following the Civil War,
everything began to change. Between mass industrialization and urbanization,
to an increase in immigration and the assimilation of former slaves into society,
the world was different, and the definition of what it meant to be an American
had to adjust. Through an examination of the literature of the late nineteenth
century and early twentieth century, such as Constance Fenimore Woolson’s
“Rodman the Keeper” and W.E.B. DuBois’s rhetorical The Souls of Black Folk, the
definition of American identity shifted to represent New England perspectives
on traumatized Southern lands as well as proposed solutions to postemancipation integration. Writers of fiction and non-fiction alike examined
the ways in which the trauma of the Civil War and slavery impacted national
identity, often in problematic ways that erased disadvantaged or traumatized
perspectives in favor of elitist, privileged views.