Death of a salesman
Roger Rosenblatt, "The Rugged Individual Rides Again
…If you would win over a crowd of Americans, use the term rugged individualism;
they will salute it like the flag. Why not ? Everyone always says that rugged
individualism is the backbone, and the jawbone, of America; that a country as
grand and sturdy as this could only have been built by the self-
05 interested strivings of wild-
pursuing his independent errand into the wilderness. The term is fairly precise.
More aggressive than mere individuality, less narcissistic than the "me" decade,
it does not refer to people who live in health clubs or on roller skates, or to the
hotly cultivated yuppies who have come to mean so much to themselves. The
10 "rugged" saves "rugged individualism" from shabbiness by implying not merely
solitary but courageous action. Look. Here comes America. Davy Crockett,
Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford. Those fellows built a nation with
their hands. Of course, the picture is pure hokum, and everybody knows it. The
West was won by wagon trains, the East by sailing ships, and they all had plenty
15 of passengers aboard, by necessity working together. "In history," Librarian of
Congress Daniel Boorstin explained, "even the great explorer had been the man
who drew others to a common purpose." Try to imagine an individual so rugged
he could raise a roof beam on his own. (...) Modern Americans see in their own
lifetimes far more evidence of a tame, cooperative society than an open zoo of
20 unclean beasts. For all its apostrophizing of the open road, most of the nation
dutifully drives at 55 m.p.h., willingly undergoes searches before boarding planes
humbly douses cigarettes from time to time. Even those who storm against gun
control require the collectivism of lobbies to make their individual stands. The
25 term rugged individualism was coined by Herbert Hoover only a decadebefore
the onset of Big Government and of a war where victory depended on America's
sense of belonging to the world. (...) So why the pretense -
a casually preferred national image requiring no analysis, like English gentlemen
30 or Latin lovers. It may be a holdover from the country's beginnings. Any institution
that starts out with a Declaration of Independence may feel obliged to uphold the
standard. The myth may also arise from a logical contradiction in a revolutionary
society; that once the revolution is done, every rugged individual must be whittled
down to a mere citizen for the revolutionized society to function. Thinking of one-
35 self as a rugged individual may preserve the revolution as we cross at the green.
Or it may be part of an effort to keep life simple, especially when simplicity swims
increasingly out of reach. The simple life, too, is a basic American myth, but it
was a lot closer to being realized before the age of genetic finagling, test-
babies and nuclear arms. Complex social problems do not harry pioneers.
40 The constant conflict between capitalism and Christianity, for example, could be
resolved, at least in words, by the figure of the rugged individual who gives to
charity of his free will, not by paying his taxes. No socialists here. Perhaps we
just seek to preserve our distinctiveness from the Old World. The American
Dream, the American Novel, the rugged American Self. Perhaps the Pilgrim
45 nation has run out of places to wander to, and thus clings to a term that implies a
perpetual future. The fact is that the country has consistently shown its best face
and best strength when it has defined rugged individuals as those people rugged
enough to come to the aid of their fellows, and intelligent enough to recognize
when they need such aid in return. (...)
50 Do we preserve the loner ideal as an act of national defensiveness, to protect the
country from conceding that it is too much alone in the world ? Before the Second
World War, a great many Americans sought international isolation. Once the
nation became a superpower it achieved more isolation than anyone ever
dreamed of; in a bipolar world, both poles are alone. The individualist Henry
55 David Thoreau called America "The Great Western Pioneer whom the nations
follow." Do they indeed ? All right, then, says the proud country: if we could be left
alone, let us be alone gloriously, ruggedly. And by extension: Let every individual
be alone. Prop him in front of his Apple II, and point him toward the prairie.
It's an odd country that likes to say such things, yet knows, and believes in, the
60 opposite. One of America's saving graces has been its ability to live comfortably
with certain forms of hypocrisy; essentially we are no different today from our
forebears who gave their lusty solo king-
town to fight a fire and demanding that the central government provide roads,
protection, cheap land and transportation.
from: TIME, October 15, 1984, slightly abridged
1. rugged -
2. to salute -
3. jawbone -
4. sturdy -
5. yuppy -
6. Davy Crockett (1786-
7. Thomas Edison (1847-
8. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-
9. to whittle down -
10.genetic finagling -
11.to harry -
12.Henry D. Thoreau (1817-
13.Apple II -
1.1. What is the traditional meaning of rugged individualism?
1.2. Which explanation does Roger Rosenblatt offer for the survival of the idea of rugged individualism?
1.3. Show the author's personal attitude towards the notion of rugged individualism.
1.4. Which aspects of American social reality that do not fit in the traditional concept does Rosenblatt point out?
2. Analysis and discussion
2.1. Divide the given text into its constituent parts and find adequate headings for each part.
2.2. Explain the elusory concept of the American Dream. Make use of your reading knowledge.
2.3. A fundamental belief of Americans, which has always attracted immigrants to the United States, is stated in the opening lines of the Declaration of
"We hold these truths to be self-
that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Do you agree with these "self-
2.4. Does Willy Loman fit in the concept of the American Dream? Give reasons for your answer. Refer to Arthur Miller's play.
2.5. Would you like to live in the United States ? Explain why or why not in about 200 words.