Virgin land: the American West as symbol and myth
The spell that the West has always exercised on the American people had its most intense impact on American literature and thought during the nineteenth century. Smith shows, with vast comprehension, the influence of the nineteenth-century West in all its variety and strength, in special relation to social, economic, cultural, and political forces. He traces the myths and symbols of the Westward movement such as the general notion of a Westward-moving Course of Empire, the Wild Western hero, the virtuous yeoman-farmer--in such varied nineteenth-century writings as Leaves of Grass, the great corpus of Dime Novels, and most notably, Frederick Jackson Turner's The Frontier in American History. Moreover, he synthesizesthe imaginative expression of Westernmyths and symbols in literature withtheir role in contemporary politics,economics, and society, embodiedin such forms as the idea of ManifestDestiny, the conflict in the Americanmind between idealizations of primitivism on the one hand and of progressand civilization on the other, theHomestead Act of 1862, and public-land policy after the Civil War.
The myths of the American Westthat found their expression in nineteenth-century words and deeds remaina part of every American's heritage,and Smith, with his insightinto their power and significance,makes possible a critical appreciation of that heritage.
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