18 Jun 2022


Transformation of Americans

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Academic level: College

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Every other American is concerned about social problems such as racism, poverty and gender inequality. The gap between the rich and the poor is constantly widening, posing a threat to the middle class that might be faced out. Gender roles have been redefined in the new era as opposed to previous years. These gender roles seek to create a situation of equality between men and women, a problem that has never been fully solved for many years. The idea of racism being eradicated is still far-fetched since many individuals in America still live precarious lives based on the tone of their skin. These are some of the many problems facing different individuals in America, and the citizens seek to find solutions to these problems. The first step to be taken towards eradicating these social vices is the understanding of what a social problem is and its impact to the economy and society. McGerr’s book , A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of Progressive Movement in America (2010), tries to explain the origin of America’s progressive thoughts and the challenges faces on the way. 

A social problem exists when the perception of a number of individuals is combined, illuminating the similarity of the personal problems these individuals face. A Fierce Discontent explains the ascent and descent of American life through the eyes of the middle class. The author focuses on an era in American history that had been blurred by the fast pace of cultural, social and political change. McGerr compares and contrasts the lives and values of different classes of people during this era. He also talks about the fight for women’s rights. The book is an eye-opener of how this particular era played a part in shaping today’s society as we know it. 

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Before the progressive era, life of Americans was somewhat simple yet primitive. The citizens worked on farms all day long and rested only on Sundays. A few decades later the county was transformed majorly, with a growth in social classes, urbanism and leisure obsesses individuals. The reforms led to a growth of high spirited intellectuals in various fields such as religion and politics who formed crusades trying to transform other individuals to be like them. The progressiveness also redefined the role of women in the society, marriage and political rules. Chapter 3 of A Fierce Discontent talks about how Rahel, a German Lady who set out for treatment in America, is faced with culture shock of how different people’s lives were there. Her encounter showed the struggles of how different genders had to live their lives in the 20 th century. The idea of family and gender roles had been redefined. The redefinition caused division throughout the nation. Yet, the progressives were too thick and blinded by transformation to notice the division, (McGerr, 2010). 

In an attempt to solve social problems, activists started emerging and influencing people to change themselves and their mindset first so as to achieve the positive change they longed for. These activists came from the working or middle-class people and were faced by a number of challenges in their pursuit to educate and enlighten the public on their values as a society. Religious leaders backed the social movement activities in their plight for change. Josiah Strong, a preacher, observed that "It is found that there is an intimate relationship between a bad environment and bad habits; that bad sanitation has not a little to do with bad morals; that bad ventilation and bad cooking are responsible for much drunkenness,” (McGerr, 2010). This implied that change had to start from the self. 

In as much as some political figures agreed with the activist’s movements, most were not as corporative. This is because political progressivism was the opposite of social progressivism. The social activists resorted to demonstrations urging the public to join them in the fight against social ills. They followed Martin Luther King’s notion that stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere,” in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, (King Jr., 2012). These demonstrations and fights led to the formation of political parties such as The Progressive Party of 1900 and The People’s Party formed by an alliance of early farmers, (Carroll &Hackett, 2006). These parties sought to challenge the status quo of the prevailing political progressivism. 

The fight against social ills, however, cannot be achieved without understanding the root cause of these problems. As the activists claim, the root cause lies within every individual. Washington Gladden, a progressive points out that, “the trouble lies deeper, in our primary conceptions. What we have got to have... is a different kind of men and women...” People should take time to analyze the history of social problems so as to come up with a perfect solution of the same. Luckily, there are books devoted to the study of social problems. As researchers try to address these social problems, they should also strive to remain objective. The goal lies not in taking a personal stance, rather in adding to the contributions that already there such as those by the early activists and progressives. 


Carroll, W. K., & Hackett, R. A. (2006). Democratic media activism through the lens of social movement theory. Media, culture & society , 28 (1), 83-104. 

King Jr, M. L. (2012). Letter from Birmingham jail. Liberating Faith: Religious voices for justice, peace, & ecological wisdom , 177-187. 

McGerr, M. (2010). A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and fall of the Progressive Movement in A . Simon and Schuster. Transforming Americans (Pp. 77-117). New York: Free Press. 

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