American Character - Then and Now

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American Character - Then and Now

A notion that still holds strong today, Fredrick Jackson Turner's idea of American character was one based on trials and experiences. Unlike Crevecour, Turner believed that American character was not simply a product of English character transported to America, but rather another idea altogether (Faragher 63). He expressed this opinion the best when he said, "In the crucible of the frontier the immigrants were Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race, English in neither nationality nor characteristics" (Faragher 64). How exactly did American character form and what defines it? Turner answered this question with the Turner thesis, using the concept of the pioneer and the immigrants who followed him to explain the western frontier and its expansion (Faragher 70). The following paragraphs will help describe how American character has manifested itself in today's society by integrating ideas from Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles Wilson Peale, and heroes depicted in different forms of entertainment during the rise and fall of the western frontier.

In Rereading America "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", ideas from an author of A New Guide for Immigrants (Mid-American Frontier) by the name of Peck were used to further stress the significance of the Turner thesis in our world today (Peck 42). In his book, Peck identified three different stages or waves of western civilization. The first stage is sort of the epitome of what is now recognized to be American character: the pioneer or farmer (Peck 43). This was a man who provided for his family by depending on vegetation and hunting. He did not care whether the land he temporarily occupied was in his ownership or not. When the area became too civilized, the pioneer moved on to make new discoveries and left his soil and house for the new wave of immigrants. Thus, introducing the second stage of western civilization. These immigrants purchased the pioneer's land and created a way of life best described as frugal and simple, consisting of school houses and mills (Peck 44). The third and final stage, labeled as "the men of capital and enterprise", is when the small villages created by the immigrants became large cities or towns (Peck 45). In the midst of all these changes, Peck points out that the pioneer was still ahead of all those who preceded him and was the original creator of American character. The combination of the Turner thesis and Peck's translation of it, provided a foundation that would help form American identity: individualism and collectivity. A perfect example of this today is the sport of baseball, America's pastime.

By the time Turner presented his thesis in 1893 at the Colombian Exhibition in Chicago, the myth of the cowboy and the myth of the frontier had already made their way into novels for the enjoyment of east coasters who were curious of the west (Cullen 127). Characters like Buffalo Bill, Nathaniel (Natty) Bumpo, and Daniel Boone helped illustrated American character. The introduction of "she-males," women with feminine and masculine qualities, were also an important feature of these novels west (Cullen 127). Characters like Jane, from Calamity Jane by Edward L. Wheeler, were like predecessors of women rights; they were heroines who demanded and received, but remained kindhearted at the same time (Faber all).

Although all of these characters had a very profound role in molding people's impression of the west, the novel which combined many individual roles of each western into one was probably The Virginian by Own Wister. This novel was so influential in helping to engrave American character in that it incorporated Turner's idea of the disappearing frontier, trial and experience, and self-reliance (Cullen 132). Owen Wister had previously worked on another novel with Theodore Roosevelt and Frederic Remington called, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail. This novel brought the...
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