The Frontier

The concept of the frontier, according to Frederick Jackson Turner, is the era of American exploration and expansion of the West with the idea that expansion results in distinct American, rather than European, territory. Although Turner’s article takes an authentic perspective and is well-argued, Turner fails to address women as important factors of Westward expansion; a topic similarly passed over in Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. While Grainier is portrayed as a hard-working, strong, self-made man, his wife is rarely mentioned and rarely significant. Gladys, Grainier’s wife, is not considered an important figure of frontier life as she is mostly described as doing mundane chores such as washing clothes and cooking (Johnson, 7). In reality, women were essential to the success of the frontier through hard-work, physical labor, and household concerns and were just as important as men.

Get Culture: Staples

Both Staples’ current tagline “Make More Happen,” and its former tagline “That Was Easy,” perfectly encompass the accessibility that is quintessentially American. Anything from pencils, printer cartridges, backpacks, and journals line the aisles, with the fresh-from-the-factory smell.

Two years ago, my parents and I went back to my hometown where I was adopted from to visit local towns and the orphanage I stayed in. The amount of poverty and struggle to live shocked me because of the drastic difference between Beihai, Guangxi and Charlottesville, Virginia. I come from a fairly simple area that’s mainly an agricultural and fishing area. They don’t have large department stores or grocery stores that are so easily accessible! The province is growing into a more urban area but there are still far reaching villages that are poor, with families who only have dreamt or heard about new pens, pencils, journals, and books every year.

What makes a mundane Staples so American is the accessibility of everything in it, whether it be school supplies, books, or something as simple as food. America is where you can walk into most any store, locate what you want, buy it, and be using it in less than 10 minutes because accessibility for the consumer is an essential part of the American lifestyle.

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(Julia’s photo)

American Parables (River of Shadows and Train Dreams)

River of Shadows

Robert Reich’s parable of Mob at the Gates shows us that power can get to our heads and since we are all trying to achieve the idealized success story of the American Dream, we “isolate ourselves from the rest of the globe” (Reich, 3) in order to protect our jobs, opportunities, and success. Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows exemplifies this same idea as Solnit describes the Golden Age of San Francisco. “The city was growing, but it was growing apart…many had woken from that [American] dream to the bitterness of institutionalized inequality, declining wages and opportunities, rising land prices and working hours.” (Solnit, 165) Solnit observes the Chinese immigrant laborers who were viewed by Americans (who were ironically immigrants or children of immigrants too) “thieves of jobs that rightly belonged to white men” (Solnit, 166). We can observe from both these examples that when we’re working toward success or are successful, we don’t want to lose our foothold and create the isolation between us and “them out there” (Reich, 3) rather than trying to disassemble the hierarchy between the successful and those still working towards it.

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is a great example of Robert Reich’s parable of the Benevolent Community. The concept of the Benevolent Community is that neighbors and friends help those in need through “American’s essential generosity and compassion toward those in need”. (Reich, 3) The protagonist of Train Dreams, Robert Grainier, sits alone in his cabin only accompanied by the loud howls of wolves and coyotes that draw closely to him until he sees the wolf-girl (who we assume to be his long-lost daughter who was presumably raised by wolves after she was “orphaned”). “She lay there on her side panting, a clearly human creature with the delicate structure of a little girl, but she was bent at the arms and the legs…with the action of her lungs there came a whistling, a squeak, like a frightened pup’s.” (Johnson, 100) He fashions a splint for the wolf-girl and cares for her as best he can despite his fear and disbelief of the wolf-girl and the confusing possibility that she could be his daughter, Kate. Thus his care for her is and example of the Benevolent Community.