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Varying viewpoints on the importance of group unity vs. the individual in American culture - Essay Example

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Name of the of the Concerned Professor English 3 October 2011 Varying Viewpoints on the Importance of Unity vs. the Individual in American Culture It may sound a bit confusing and contradictory, but it is a fact that a great and young civilization like the United States of America owes it grandeur and quintessential power to the two seemingly polar yet coexisting aspects of its denizens…
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Varying viewpoints on the importance of group unity vs. the individual in American culture
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Download file to see previous pages On the surface, the themes in the two work of literature that is Pioneers! O Pioneers! By Walt Whitman and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck appear to be a contest in unity versus individual. However, essentially they tend to reinforce these contradictory yet coexistent trends in the American character. The poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! By Walt Whitman is an ode celebrating the courage of the pioneers who renounced the claims and legacy of the civilizations of the Continent to aspire for a difficult and more fulfilling life in the American West. This sentiment is very much evident in the following lines: “Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over their beyond the seas? We take our task eternal, and the burden and the lesson (Whitman: Online)” The poem tends to celebrate the unifying myth of the West, a cherished notion that was central to the genesis of the Unite States, a concept serving as a continuum between the past and the future, celebrating the collective potential of a young country like America. “O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost (Whitman: Online)” The intermittent usage of the word “we” in the poem attempts to highlight a collectively American heritage and legacy. However, at the same time the poem also appeals to the individual pioneer lurking in the consciousness of every American. It brings forth the typical American individualistic strain of to do away with the set ways and pulls of the past, to venture forth into new territories, be it geographical or cerebral. The very ploy of using the first person plural by the poet enables one to weave this streak of individualism into a collective entity, thereby allowing for the coexistence of both. I contrast; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck seems to attempt just the opposite. Actually Steinbeck based this novel on the experience he accumulated while traveling through California in the mid 30s, where he witnessed people living in abject poverty owing to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The novel poignantly and starkly recognizes the situation and times in the lives of the families, where the collective survival and existence seems so impossible, unless bolstered and propped by busts of individual courage and gumption. The very act of trying to eke out a survival by an individual at an economic and emotional level instills something steely in the character of the entire group. Though America is based on the idea of need for the individual, Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath tends to qualify this individualism, by depicting the struggle of the individual soul yet celebrating the ability of a well weathered soul to bring solace to the group. So peculiarly, his deliberations on Ma bring forth this enigma: “She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. … She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered… the family will to function will be gone (Steinbeck 84).” ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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