Continuing my gritty steampunk setting what are the themes/tropes/memes etc? I have points to make (Five Points ... manhattan get it? No? Then go watch Copper on BBC and get a DVD of Gangs of New York.)
Point 1 This steampunk is close to its roots - cyberpunk! You're either very rich and trying to get richer or very poor and looking to get very rich. Everyone is hungry. The street urchins want their next meal. The robber barons want bigger profits. Industry wants coal and steel. The army wants men.
Point 2 Life is cheap. Death is everywhere. Confederates and anarchist are alway attempting what today would be called terror attacks. There's someone looking to roll you on every corner and that's just everyday life! Let's not even get into the what the Astors or Vanderbilts will do if you mess with their bottom line. In addition most medicine is pretty primitive apart from prosthetics or mad science. they can't treat TB but they can keep your brain alive in a jar if you can pay or replace that lost arm with a brass one (chrome is cyberpunk, brass is steampunk.)
Point 3 Information Overload. Kinescopes hawk wares and show war scenes. Pneumatic tubes whisk mail everywhere. The city is a tangle of dangerous telegraph lines (see Point 2.) Newsies peddle papers on every corner and also pamphlets, brochures and flyers. Picture human and paper spam keeping you from thinking as you walk.
Point 4 Corruption. The bigger or more important an institution is the more evil it is. The corner pharmacist may be okay, patch you up and keep his mouth shut for a suitable wage. The young inventor with a small company will give you up to advance himself. The big companies regard everyone as a tool to be used as long as they're bringing in profits. The British Empire and most other governments ... you do the math.
Point 5 Technology increases at a frightful pace. The Civil War goes on. It started with cannons and muskets. Now heat rays steam powered battlesuits run wild. The Union blockade of the Confederacy is defeated by the rebels' submarines and airships. Every week brings new advances and a way to use them in a scam or crime.