Final Paper

Final Paper - Michael Guertin American Studies 301...

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Michael Guertin American Studies 301 Professor Gustafson T.A.: Lisa Ybarra December 15, 2008 The Mythology of the American Frontier Preface Some historians refer to the frontier as the “f-word,” revealing the frailty of the term and the devastation it has caused to some cultures. The frontier is elastic in the sense that it has so many different meanings to different people and comes in a variety of forms. However, the one theme that remains clear is that the frontier is typically a metaphor for promise and progress. In American history, the frontier has frequently symbolized the westward expansion of Anglo Americans that hoped to conquer the rivers, mountains, plains, and other wide-open spaces that stood in their way. It is the place where white Americans struggled to master the continent and was populated by a broad range of figures including pioneers, outlaws, saloon girls, and of course, the cowboys and Indians. The combination of these characters helped to romanticize the West and a promise of opportunity and an aura of innocence has surrounded it every since. Despite the attractiveness and exceptionalism of the frontier, it still holds a darker reality. While Americans expanded westward with an infectious tone of adventure and heroism, there were blood and brutal realities of conquest. The image of the frontier blurs the truth of unwarranted conquest and produces the dreamy ideas of democracy and opportunity. Frederick Jackson Turner, a nineteenth century American historian, defined the frontier as “a place occupied by fewer than two people per square mile” (Grossman, pg. 67). Even though Turner’s definition of the frontier is quantifiable, the image associated with the frontier is much more than that. It represents the hopes and promises of a foreign land to one nation while it signifies the
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exploitation of a different culture. In general, the relationship between America and the abundant frontier of the new world ultimately gave birth to an expansionist America. Texts 1. Richard White, “Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill,” in The Frontier in American Culture , pg. 12-13: “Turner did not have to tell Americans about the frontier; he could mobilize images they already knew. Turner masterfully deployed the images of log cabins, wagon trails, and frontier farming—and the stories that went with them. He fashioned these into a sweeping explanation of the nation’s past. Along with the familiar themes of conquering a ‘wilderness’ and making homes upon the land, Turner emphasized another, less familiar, theme: in advancing the frontier, a diverse people of European origins had remade themselves into Americans.” In White’s essay, he demonstrates the powerful impact that the frontier had on Americans. Since Americans were already familiar with the existence of the frontier, it shows that the term was extremely influential and far-reaching. If images of the frontier could simply lure people into its promise, it was only a matter of time before Americans became infatuated
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This note was uploaded on 01/27/2009 for the course AMST 301g taught by Professor Gustafson during the Fall '06 term at USC.

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Final Paper - Michael Guertin American Studies 301...

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