The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

Excerpt

When in his essay The Poet (1844) Emerson included among his list of subjects still unsung the Western Clearing, he was giving vent to what yet remains a common opinion -- that we have neglected our most distinctive and prolific literary theme. Professor Turner and his followers have demonstrated convincingly to us the significance of the Frontier in American History; its influence on literature has never been determined.

This task I set myself a number of years ago, soon coming to the conclusion, however, that sound generalization was impossible without a series of detailed studies dealing with different phases of the frontier -- the Forest, the Prairies, the Plains, the Mountains, and the Sea. After completing these I hope to be able to carry out my original idea.

This first book, a unit in itself, outlines the treatment of the Middle West, that rich agricultural region of which the distinctive feature is the Prairie, from the time of its discovery to the present day. The first thing that the study should prove is that, in spite of Emerson's and others' denials, this section has been the subject of numerous and varied interpretations which have reflected all stages of its life. It should further demonstrate the futility of facile generalization concerning the frontier since types from one section were carried over to another and since European romantic traditions shaped many border concepts. The inclusion of historical source materials, ordinarily neglected by the literary historian, will show, I believe, a constant interplay between them and the imaginative treatments, the latter using familiar situations and figures, the former being adorned by some of the most famous creations of the romancers. The survey has been carried beyond the frontier stage to reveal the continuity of tendencies and the significance for social history of the literary treatments of the prairie, regardless of their aesthetic value, which is in many cases relatively slight.

Naturally in such a study the problem is not so much one of finding material as of eliminating it; attempt to treat all the . . .

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