Term Paper: Gold Rush

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Gold Rush

The history of each nation is influenced by a series of different characteristics and moments that eventually come to be regarded as defining for its subsequent evolution. Throughout centuries, the American history has experienced a number of significant milestones that are today remembered for their important contribution to the overall development of the American identity. One such moment in time is considered to be the 19th century Gold Rush.

Indeed, its practical result was the population of the west by those in search of the fortune the idea of "el dorado" stood for; still, it marked a turning point in the history of the U.S. In terms of immigration and women' social stand. It represented a time that proved to be essential for the establishment of the cultural and ethnical diversity of the social texture, as this moment set the start for the immigration process which would lay the basis for the cultural diversity of the American society. Many historians, however, are reluctant to consider the role women played in this period and their contribution to the evolution of the society at that time. Consequently, it can be said that both the immigrant phenomenon and the situation of women represent important elements to be taken into consideration when discussing the era of the Gold Rush.

There are few scholars that connect these two ideas in terms of historical interdependence. Jo Ann Levy is one such author who has dedicated much of her literary career to analyzing 19th century America taking into consideration and, at the same time, pointing out the contribution immigrants, and especially women had to the construction of the American cultural heritage. She makes clear her passion for this subject throughout her books; while the first of her works, "They saw the elephant" pictures women taking part in the Gold Rush phenomenon from a more literary perspective, seeing the fictional nature of the book, the second one, "Daughter of joy," focuses on one woman's fate as she tries to make it in 19th century San Francisco. Although the conflict develops and presents multiple perspectives, the main focus lies on the author's attempt to sketch the condition of an immigrant Chinese woman during the Gold Rush period, one of the most important eras in the evolution of the nation's destiny.

In essence, the book draws the attention on two interwoven ideas; on the one hand, the phenomenon of the gold rush, and on the other, the immigration it attracted. The story of Ah Toy, a Chinese immigrant that becomes a San Francisco prostitute in order to "better her condition" presents the historical conditions of the time while pointing out the tragedy of one representative of a minority, both in terns of nationality and sex.

The Gold Rush is considered to be the event that would eventually lead to the expansion of the American territory west. Before the middle of the 19th century, the land that would be California was unknown to the east coast population. However, it all changed "on January 24, 1848, (when) James W. Marshall found small pieces of the glittering metal in the American River near present day Coloma. When news of Marshall's startling find became known, the California Gold Rush began." The place soon became famous and came to be known as "El Dorado"; people at that time were easily impressible and vulnerable to stories that implied the search for treasures or other stories that defied reality. This is why the news of a land where gold would be found in the heart of the mountains and on the banks of the rivers stirred huge controversy but at the same time motivated people to orientate their dreams towards parts of the country that would have otherwise remained unknown.

The results of this finding, seen from a historical perspective, can hardly be measured. In any case, it determined a large part of the population to move west in search of gold. However, the experience cost the lives of many who left their homes and towns to ventured in exhausting trips across the desert. Levy points out their struggle as she underlines that "whatever the individual pleasures and tragedies, all shared the fearful experience of the desert crossing, the penultimate barrier to California's riches. The rugged Sierra Nevada, the emigrants' final obstacle, exacted its toll in wagons smashed or abandoned, but it was the 40-mile desert that threatened death. By the time over landers reached this desert described by guidebooks as a distance that "must be performed in one stretch, as there is no grass nor good water on the road," they had already traveled 1,800 miles. Their oxen, mules, and horses were worn, their spirits and bodies fatigued, their provisions frequently reduced to starvation levels." Indeed, this phenomenon is considered to be the cause of a "huge migration that changed the nation forever" taking into consideration the fact that "in just four years, almost 250,000 miners, farmers, businessmen and others arrived to settle in California."

The great impact of the Gold Rush upon the nation's future is presented by Levy in her book to great detail, but especially from a different perspective. Even if the migration determined by the Gold Rush involved the local population, immigrants from other continents also contributed to it. Thus, many foreigners, among whom most Europeans, Latin Americans and Chinese decided to go in search for a better life. Levy's story focuses on the Chinese experience and its specificities. She justified her choice by the historical reality of that time and her desire to present as accurate as possible the status of foreign people in the society. She considers the choice to be motivated by the fact that "California hosted a huge Chinese population as early as 1852." Moreover, "in the 1850s, long before "Pacific Rim" became a catch phrase, China was California's trading partner." Therefore the historical realities and prospects determined the author to focus her attention on the Chinese experience during the Gold Rush.

The main character of the novel is relevant to the overall aim of the author, that of pointing out the immigrants' experience in the 19th century America and especially the women involved in the Gold Rush. Ah Toy was a Chinese prostitute who came to San Francisco on a boat from Canton. Apparently, the character really existed and was quite famous for her unique appearance and attitude. It seems that she was indeed a worth representative of her nation, proud of her origins, but at the same time, subdued by the need to improve her life. Thus, while she would exploit her exotic appearance, "dressed in an apricot satin jacket and willow-green pantaloons (...) colorful pair of tabis, her raven hair (was) arranged in a chignon, while her eyebrows were black and pencil thin. The whole colorful picture contrasted with her white cheeks that had been rice-powdered," she performed activities that to a certain extent were inadequate for a woman's morality. The fact that she resorted to prostitution as a means of existence comes to point out the inferior status of immigrants and especially of women who were disregarded both for her nationality and for her gender.

Chinese immigrants are considered to be one of the most important results of the Gold Rush. Although in the beginning few of them actually benefited from any opportunity to develop themselves, eventually they would become essential elements in the development of the country. Therefore, "the earliest Chinese immigrants to the United States started coming about the time of the Gold Rush in the 1840s, when Chinese in Guangdong and Shanghai began hearing rumors about the 'gold mountain'. Chinese came to seek fortunes in the gold rush, but many never made the riches that they heard about. More Chinese came to build the railroads in the 1880s, and most Chinese stayed put in America and made their livelihood in the United States."

The American society was rather vulnerable to the influences of different other cultures seeing that the idea of national identity was not strongly engulfed in the general conscience, especially taking into consideration the relatively recent experience of the civil war. This is why the immigrants that populated the western part of the country were rather successful in maintaining their cultural identity and kept the specificities of their national origins. In the Chinese case, it manifested through the establishment of the Chinatowns that became natural parts of cities such as San Francisco. It has been argued the fact that the Chinese community was strongly attached to the national values of their culture and during the 19th century, they were rather reluctant to adopt the English language, not so much as a defiance of the discriminatory practices of the American authorities but rather out of a deep respect and attachment to their own cultural heritage. The idea of this constant relation to the Chinese land is also present in Levy's novel in depicting the overall environment in which the actions take place, filled with description of the traditional… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Gold Rush."  Essaytown.com.  February 19, 2007.  Accessed June 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/gold-rush/29875.