Film Study Guide


The period following the Civil War through the turn of the century is arguably the most dynamic 35-year stretch in American history. During this time span, the United States experienced a massive transition on several fronts. Commercial magnates steamrolled America from a rural, agricultural country into an urban, industrial colossus. Manifest destiners swept westward, completing an ocean-to-ocean majesty while virtually erasing America's continental frontier in the process. A government once determined to isolate itself from the rest of the world now reached abroad to become an international colonial power. Through it all, the United States fought no major war; no President of greatness emerged to provide extraordinary leadership; no single event stands alone as particularly representative of the era. Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. On the surface, it glittered; beneath all the luster, however, problems were festering.

The changes impacted Americans everywhere. In the commercial Northeast, big business boomed. America's abundant natural resources, numerous technological advances, and generous pool of immigrant labor allowed industry to flourish. In fact, industry grew so out of hand that government regulation became necessary. Big business moguls like Andrew Carnegie, John Davison Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt accumulated tremendous fortunes in various industries such as steel, petroleum, and railroads. Extreme wealth allowed the industrial aristocracy to exert increasing influence in politics and society. Many businessmen became substantial patrons to colleges, libraries, and museums, but ironically, much of the wealth being passed out in the name of philanthropy was acquired through unethical and ruthless means!

Laborers responded to the growing power of business by joining together in unions to fight for better pay, fewer hours, and safer working conditions. In Baltimore in 1877, in Chicago in 1886 and 1894, and in Pittsburgh in 1892, beleaguered employees staged huge strikes to force management's hand. But even then, the workers had a difficult time effecting any changes on their behalf because the ever-increasing flow of immigrants provided companies with an ample supply of ready labor for factories and mills. In addition, the Supreme Court, working overtime to interpret many complicated cases regarding disagreements between business and labor, tended to rule in management's favor.

The cities immediately transformed the everyday lives of many Americans. Newcomers especially, but dwellers too, were awed by the office skyscrapers, electric streetcars, suspension bridges, department stores, and beautiful parks. New forms of recreation such as vaudeville, amusement parks, bicycle riding, boxing, and baseball attracted considerable attention. In time, the facilities and services provided by many municipalities simply could not keep up with the rapid population growth. Crime and filth abounded, the latter propagating outbreaks of serious epidemic illnesses. Some large cities, New York and San Francisco among them, suffered yet another problem—notoriously corrupt political bosses.

Changes during the late 1800s were not confined to the commercial Northeast. The wild and woolly West, as well, was kicking up its heels. More and more Indian land was being overtaken by homesteads, gold strikes, railroads, and cattle drives. Disputes over land led to bloody conflicts between Indians of the Great Plains and white settlers and soldiers. Sadly, the unchecked white encroachment eventually compromised much of the traditional culture of the Indians. Thanks to characters like Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp (and the film industry decades later), places such as Dodge City, Kansas, and Deadwood, South Dakota, and Tombstone, Arizona, are legendary today. In the meantime, several pieces of America's continental puzzle between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean were officially defined and given names, bringing the number of Uncle Sam's states to 45 by the turn of the century.

The most painstaking change occurred in the South. The former Confederate states wallowed in the throes of Reconstruction after losing their beloved institution of slavery via the Civil War. While some southerners begrudgingly tried to adjust, others attempted every scheme imaginable to maintain black subservience. By 1877, political Reconstruction had been accomplished, but the northern-dominated Congress discovered that legislating the social aspects of Reconstruction was merely an exercise in futility. So while a pre-war working relationship among all states was resumed, Dixie maintained a unique character, often functioning as an entity if not separate from the North, then certainly joined only by contract. Many blacks left the South, either for the northern cities where more job opportunities existed or for the western expanse and its hope of increased racial equality. Those blacks who remained in the South had a new neighbor to deal with. His name was Jim Crow.


Far and Away is the adventure of two young Irish immigrants who journey to the United States during the very late 1800s. Each is seeking a better life, but from vastly different perspectives. The movie is entirely fictional, but it touches on several important elements of the Gilded Age, such as immigration, urbanization, industrialization, nativism, political graft, extreme working conditions, westward settlement, and transcontinental railroad construction, to list a few.

Tom Cruise appears as Joseph, the strong-willed son of a poor tenant farmer, and Nicole Kidman is cast as Shannon, the obstinate daughter of a wealthy land owner. Joseph and Shannon meet by pure chance, and although neither would care to admit it, the internal bond between them soon becomes inseparable. Robert Prosky (Shannon's father), Barbara Babcock (Shannon's mother), and Thomas Gibson (Shannon's boyfriend) also appear in the 1992 production, directed by Ron Howard. Far and Away is rated PG-13. It contains some mild sexual inferences which most viewers will appreciate as more humorous than offensive.

Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing Far and Away, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
  1. The period known as the Gilded Age involved all of the following except:
    1. the general transition from an agricultural country to an industrial nation
    2. significant westward settlement beyond the Mississippi River
    3. national politics dominated by Congress due to a series of mediocre Presidents
    4. America's gradual shift away from economic democracy

  2. The immigration of the main characters in Far and Away is an example of:
    1. "old" immigration
    2. "late" immigration
    3. "modern" immigration
    4. "new" immigration

  3. The first federal law to restrict immigration, passed in 1882, targeted people from:
    1. China
    2. Ireland
    3. Mexico
    4. Italy

  4. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the majority of Europeans arriving in America passed through the federal immigration station located at New York City's:
    1. Brooklyn Bridge
    2. Central Park
    3. Ellis Island
    4. Times Square

  5. The peak year of European immigration to the United States, during which more than one million people crossed the Atlantic, was:
    1. 1855
    2. 1892
    3. 1907
    4. 1921

  6. All of the following were major sources of urban population growth in the Northeast during the Gilded Age except:
    1. farmers and people from small rural towns
    2. southern blacks
    3. immigrants from Europe
    4. unsuccessful California gold prospectors

  7. The three largest American cities in 1900 were:
    1. St. Louis, Boston, and Baltimore
    2. Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco
    3. Boston, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans
    4. New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia

  8. Far and Away shows all of the following problems which accompanied rapid urban growth during the late 1800s except:
    1. increased crime
    2. epidemic illnesses
    3. political graft
    4. unfair labor practices

  9. The formation of ethnic neighborhoods by immigrants in American cities:
    1. prevented their advancement in the workplace
    2. resulted from discriminatory restrictions
    3. intensified a sense of incoherence with American values
    4. tended to reinforce the cultural values of their previous societies

  10. All of the following were true at the point of America's departure from the Gilded Age except:
    1. union membership was high and labor practices were well-regulated
    2. immigrants were pouring into the United States
    3. development of new manufacturing methods was common
    4. cities were growing at a rapid pace

  11. The first American novel to portray the urban world realistically was:
    1. The Shame of the Cities, by Lincoln Steffens
    2. A Hazard of New Fortunes, by William Dean Howells
    3. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane
    4. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

  12. The home city of the first paid professional baseball team was:
    1. Boston
    2. Cincinnati
    3. New York
    4. Cleveland

  13. "A no-nonsense attitude toward public administration was reflected in his courage, integrity, and diligence. He valued principle more than adulation of the multitude. When once urged by party leaders to equivocate his stand on a particular issue while campaigning for re-election, he replied, 'What is the use of being elected or re-elected, unless you stand for something?' Of the average politicians who occupied the White House during the Gilded Age, his first term was probably the best." The President described is:
    1. James Garfield
    2. Grover Cleveland
    3. Benjamin Harrison
    4. William McKinley

  14. During the latter portion of the 1800s, Americans seemed to place high value on all of the following except:
    1. aggressive business tactics
    2. progress and technology
    3. material wealth
    4. political honesty and governmental efficiency

  15. The Yale professor who applied Charles Darwin's biological theory of evolution to the socio-economic world was:
    1. Horatio Alger
    2. William Graham Sumner
    3. Henry George
    4. Thorstein Veblen

  16. Adolph Strasser, Samuel Gompers, and Uriah Stephens are associated with:
    1. election reform
    2. legislative restrictions on immigration
    3. the cattle industry
    4. organized labor

  17. The Scottish immigrant who by the late 1800s dominated America's iron and steel industry was:
    1. Cornelius Vanderbilt
    2. Andrew Carnegie
    3. John Davison Rockefeller
    4. Leland Stanford

  18. All of the following statements about America's first transcontinental railroad are true except:
    1. it was authorized by the Pacific Railway Act of 1862
    2. much of the work was performed by Chinese and Irish immigrants
    3. most of the cost was absorbed by the two companies involved (Central Pacific and Union Pacific)
    4. it joined Sacramento, California, with Omaha, Nebraska

  19. In Far and Away, a cannon was fired:
    1. as part of a July 4th celebration in Boston
    2. to signal the opening of Indian land in Oklahoma for white settlement
    3. at Indians attacking a wagon train heading west across the Great Plains
    4. to mark the completion of America's first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah

  20. The law which granted 160 acres of free western land to any settler who would agree to farm the land for five years was the:
    1. Morrill Land Grant Act (1862)
    2. Homestead Act (1862)
    3. Desert Land Act (1877)
    4. Pendleton Act (1883)

  21. Based on their actions in the finale of Far and Away, Shannon's parents could be labeled:
    1. "Jayhawkers"
    2. "Carpetbaggers"
    3. "Exodusters"
    4. "Sooners"

  22. People were lured to the West for all of the following reasons except:
    1. plentiful land at cheap prices
    2. the dream of getting rich by prospecting gold
    3. employment opportunities such as the railroads or cattle drives
    4. better working conditions in factories

  23. In Far and Away, Joseph and Shannon:
    1. emigrate to the United States, arriving in New Orleans, then travel by riverboat on the Mississippi River to St. Louis
    2. arrive in Boston but depart almost immediately for New York City, where they attempt to make a living together
    3. journey together to Boston, but separate after falling on hard times there, only to meet again by chance in Oklahoma Territory a few months later
    4. spend a good deal of time in Boston, then together head westward by train to purchase land in California

  24. All of the following achieved statehood prior to 1900 except:
    1. Oklahoma
    2. South Dakota
    3. Utah
    4. Wyoming

  25. Far and Away is best described as a/an:
    1. documentary-type film which portrays the American experience of the vast majority of European immigrants
    2. interpretation of Mark Twain's book The Gilded Age
    3. true story of two Irish immigrants who came to the United States during the late nineteenth century
    4. fictional story that covers, with some degree of accuracy, several important aspects of the Gilded Age

Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).
  1. Author Mark Twain referred the era following the Civil War as the "Gilded Age." Discuss why Twain attached this label to the period, and whether it is an appropriate description.

  2. Account for the interrelated themes of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration during the immediate decades after the Civil War.

  3. Trace the need for and evaluate the effects of any two of the following pieces of legislation during the Gilded Age—Chinese Exclusion Act (1882); Pendleton Act (1883); Interstate Commerce Act (1887); Dawes Severalty Act (1887); Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890).

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled
masses yearning to breathe free...."