Murray State Theses and Dissertations


This project argues myths are central to society. For the Gilded Age, this was especially true. Myths helped to explain the world, individually and nationally. Stories structure life. Stories structure nations. They are consequential in times of change when the world is incomprehensible. At an individual level, the self-made ideal explained success and failure. It came with an implicit promise: every individual had an equal opportunity to succeed in the new economy, and the system was fair. Myths of the Western experience explained national identity. It revealed traits including rugged individualism, independence, and perseverance came from taming the frontier. These myths bound the country together. As the world continued to change, these optimistic versions of the world faced reality. Reality was much different. This disconnect created a sense of unease and anxiety about the future, and it led to a breakdown in narratives about the individual and society.

Myths that at first functioned as cohesive forces resulted in division and turmoil. Economic progress and technological advances made society unequal and more lopsided. Values transitioned from those of a market economy to a market society. People questioned myths as inequalities grew wider. Counter narratives emerged to combat prevailing myths. The resolution, the inevitable political backlash, thought of as the progressive era is not the focus here. Rather it is the beginning of the Gilded Age when new ways of understanding the world entered for the first time.

Year manuscript completed


Year degree awarded


Author's Keywords

Gilded Age, Inequality, Wall Street, Poverty, Self-made man, Social Darwinism

Degree Awarded

Master of Arts




College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Thesis Advisor

James D Bolin

Committee Member

Kathy Callahan

Committee Member

William Mulligan

Document Type