THE AMERICAN DREAM
Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land,
its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.
Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing
conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding
people – to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive
economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. (...)
Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing
frontier line, and a new development for that area.
American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this
expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American
character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. (...)
From the conditions of the frontier life came the intellectual traits of profound importance. The works of travelers along each frontier from colonial
days onward describe certain common traits, and these traits have, while softening down, still persisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even
when a higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness
and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of
material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good
and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom -
of the existence of the frontier.
Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the water of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people
of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. He would
be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased.
Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider
field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves. (...)
Each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn
of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier. (...)
And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with
its going has closed the first period of American history.
from: F. J. Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History
1.1. What is Turner's basic hypothesis about American history?
1.2. What does Turner mean when he speaks of "the peculiarity of American institutions"?
1.3. What, according to Turner, has shaped the American character?
1.4. What intellectual characteristics do Americans owe to the frontier? Describe these characteristics in your own words.
1.5. What are some of the positive effects of the frontier?
2. Analysis and discussion
2.1. Divide the given text into its constituent parts and find adequate headings for each part.
2.2. Would you agree with Turner's judgement of "the American intellect"? What is your personal view?
2.3. Explain the concept of the American Dream with regard to the importance of the frontier.
2.4. Which facts about the United States of America do you like and dislike? Write a composition of about 150 words.
2.5. Is there something like the "German Dream"?