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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

5. Masculine

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton
- Cherokee Memorials
- Louise Amelia Smith Clappe
- James Fenimore Cooper
- Corridos
- Caroline Stansbury Kirkland
- Nat Love
- John Rollin Ridge
- Catharine Maria Sedgwick
- Walt Whitman
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and the Cherokee Memorialists
Writing in the first half of the nineteenth century, these authors explored issues of Euro-American incursions into traditional Native American lands in the eastern United States. Cooper and Sedgwick both worked in the tradition of the historical novel. Though they focused on different time periods and geographic settings in their most famous works--Sedgwick set Hope Leslie in the Puritan community in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, while Cooper set his Leather-Stocking novels in the Great Lakes region in the eighteenth century--they both grappled with the questions of the evolving American character and the racial tensions that complicated Native American and Euro-American relations. Although Cooper and Sedgwick are sympathetic to many of their Native American characters, they still rely on stereotypical depictions and often present Native American culture as anachronistic and untenable in the modern world. The Cherokee memorials contrast interestingly with the works of Cooper and Sedgwick because the memorialists insist so forcefully on the living, vibrant, and evolving nature of Native American societies.

Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Louise Amelia Smith Clappe, and John Rollin Ridge
Burton, Clappe, and Ridge all write eloquently about the enormous economic and cultural changes shaping California at the end of the nineteenth century. Because they write from very different points of view--Ruiz de Burton as a Latina woman interested in the plight of displaced Latinos, Clappe as a white woman living in a Gold Rush boomtown, and Ridge as a Cherokee èmigrè to California who identifies with embattled Latinos--they supplement each other to create a rich picture of the diverse culture of California during the Gold Rush and railroad booms. Ridge's masculinist depiction of Joaquin Murieta as an outlaw hero makes an interesting contrast to Ruiz de Burton's explorations of powerful female characters and to Clappe's depiction of her own position as a woman in an environment dominated by male miners.

Walt Whitman and the Corridos
Both Whitman's work and the corridos can be characterized as poetry that seeks to define a new kind of American hero. While the corridos adhere to formal conventions and metrical structure in a way that Whitman's poetry does not, they use their lyrics to question boundaries and celebrate resistance to rules and dominant conventions. These two poetic forms have had a lasting and ongoing influence on American verse and music--Whitman's development of free verse transformed American poetry, while the spirit of the corridos continues to live in contemporary Latino verse and song.

Caroline Stansbury Kirkland and Nat Love
Though they come from very different backgrounds and espoused extremely different values, Kirkland and Love both employed an autobiographical mode to narrate their impressions of life on what they considered the "frontier." Kirkland's interest in "domesticating" the West makes an effective contrast to Love's celebration of his time roaming the plains as a cowherd with no permanent home. (The extent to which Kirkland's model won out might be gauged by the fact that Love soon found the cowboy life untenable and took to the more domestic position of porter on the railroads.) Kirkland's female perspective is reflected in her chronicles of everyday experiences of hardworking women, an aspect of western life that usually went unreported. Love, on the other hand, is much more interested in constructing himself as a masculine hero and turns to "tall tales" and accounts of exciting adventures more often than realistic description to narrate his adventures in the West.

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