The “American” idea is not wholly contained in the Pledge of Allegiance or “The Star-Spangled Banner.” What are the ideas that Americans have traditionally embraced? What events in our countries’ history have been cataloged? What has been the effect of those events? In the literary timeline, what American works have endured or do we expect will endure?
All of these are different ways of thinking about the same problem. What does it mean when you identify yourself as an “American” and what has it meant for the last two hundred years?
The Evolving American Story
The story of America is that of an infant born into this world with endless untapped potential. As the child comes into the world he is given every opportunity to be better than everything that came before him. America is educated on the failures of others which leads to unprecedented opportunity. Along the path to adulthood he makes some mistakes, but he recovers and youthful indiscretions are forgiven. With new focus and experience there is no indication his future is limited.
Eventually, greed, bad decisions, broken promises, and unfair judgments hinder growth. The struggle is to find meaning and come to terms with free will, to find one’s place in the world, to overcome our violent nature. Each of these threaten to lead America away from fulfilling its potential. The fact that we struggle, though, gives us hope. Hope that we can realize our potential.
This, to me, is the story American literature tells us. America is always becoming something different, for better or for worse. At our literary core is always then, the struggle with who we are and how we can and should be better. That desire imposes pressures and stresses that are sometimes too much for us to cope with. Books can help.
My “American” Research Project
So, my weekend research project was to put a price tag on appreciating the “American” perspective. Can you part with .60 a day? If you can you can own it. Alternatively, to quote “Good Will Hunting”, you could get the same thing from “a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library.”
Here are the works that explain “America” better than I ever could:
What does it mean to constantly and objectively work toward self-improvement?
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson/Henry David Thoreau
What are the influences of nature and solitude on the individual?
What does it mean to be self-reliant?
How do you describe the individual and social psychology of sin and guilt?
What are the perils of destructive obsession?
Can even the best systems be corrupted by evil men?
The common people are the real people and the real people contain multitudes.
What is right may not always be what everyone else thinks is right.
Modern man is identified by his internal regret.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Following World War I, what are the effects of greed, love, decadence and how do the three interact?
This Side of Paradise
Tell me about the sacred land and the sacred individual. Tell me how the individual can be healed by the sacred land.
How to live as a poor man and the effects of “The Great Depression.”
The realities of racism.
There is something about adolescence that we never forget and maybe never fully recover from.
Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
Where can we find something to believe in and where can we find meaning?
Is there any hope for the true individual that refuses to conform?
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
What is fate? What is free will? Oh, how illogically we, humans, act.
What is a man’s place in society? What is a man’s identity? What does race still mean to us?
Proof we are still trying to figure it all out?
We still haven’t figured it out yet, have you?
Power, violence, and our warlike nature.
David Foster Wallace
Addiction of all kinds, depression, and popular entertainment are common demons.
What does it mean to be a hero in the face of extreme boredom?
What happened to the American family and what do we do about it?
What happened to America and Americans that brought us to this point?
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