Beyond the Frontier: Writers, Western Regionalism, and a by Harold Simonson

By Harold Simonson

Booklet by means of Simonson, Harold

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Extra info for Beyond the Frontier: Writers, Western Regionalism, and a Sense of Place

Sample text

He also thought of himself as an Adam, one who merged with nature or, knowing its mysterious power, achieved his full measure through nature. Only as spirit freed itself from the bondage of social institutions and became part and parcel of nature would the individual realize this fulfillment. The West, therefore, held the paradox essential to the American experience. To conquer nature or, in a mystical sense, to fuse with it; to appropriate it for the progress of civilization or, instead, to conform to its ineffable laws for the sake of realizing selfhood; to emulate an Andrew Carnegie or to follow a Henry David Thoreau—this was the American's choice in facing west.

These contingencies are only temporary, just as tragedy is only illusory, belonging to life's exterior. ” Even though Emerson begins this essay with the notable statement—“He has seen but half the universe who never has been shown the House of Pain”—it is clear that he never intended to limit truth to what lies this side of the wall. For all his skepticism, voiced again in his essay on Michel Montaigne—‘‘The astonishment of life is the absence of any appearance of reconciliation between the theory and practice of life”—Emerson's view extends beyond tragedy, beyond the boundaries of evil and fate.

The concept goes back to the early seventeenth-century journals of William Byrd, William Bradford and John Winthrop, back to the time when America's frontier was the lush Carolina hills and the rock-bound New England coast. It goes back to Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur, whose Letters from an American Farmer, published in 1793, announced that on the American frontier “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men’’; or back to less enthusiastic observers who, like Timothy Dwight of Yale, associated the frontier with unlettered bumpkins.

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