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Varying Definitions Of 'america' In American Literature

2001 words - 8 pages

Varying Definitions of 'America' in American Literature

     Denotations and connotations inherent in the word "America" in different works of American literature have a number of similarities and differences. Often, the definition of the word is not known at the beginning of a work and one of the thematic elements is the search for the true "America," whatever it may be for the author in question. Many American authors raise the question, "What is America?" and go about answering it in their own way. This is, perhaps, the only common element across the great variety of works in the collective body of American literature, that "America" means different things to different authors, and that one of the beautiful aspects of America is this diversity of views.

The earliest definitions and connotations for "America" as an idea come from, of course, the Native Americans living and creating a complex oral literature long before the word "America" came into existence. In this sense, America and the Earth are synonymous. There is not any distinction between the two, since "America" as a word does not exist, yet. The Earth, and thus America, is a living entity in its own right, and is to be revered and respected as such. This can be very clearly seen in the Navajo "Song of the Earth".

Below the East, the Earth, its face toward the East.

The top of its head is beautiful.

The soles of its feet are beautiful.

Its feet, they are beautiful.

Its legs, they are beautiful.

Here the earth is pictured as being an animal, and the repeated lines at the beginning and the end of the song,

The Earth is beautiful.

The Earth is beautiful.

The Earth is beautiful.

demonstrate the reverence for the Earth that is contained in the Native American view of the Earth, and thus of America. As the song lists different things that are on the Earth, facing different directions, it gains an ubiquitous quality, as though it speaks for and about the entire universe. The repetition of corn in the song lends to the image of America the role of a provider of sustenance, which is part of its beauty.

This is very similar to the poetry and ideas contained in the poetry of Walt Whitman. Whitman often lists different things in a repetitive manner, such as in the song above. For example, in "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman lists just about every body part he can think of.

Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,

. . .

Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,

. . .

All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one's body, male or female,

In so doing, he achieves the same sense of the universal that was achieved in the Navajo song. Moreover, his purpose in listing each of the body parts is to examine their beauty. "That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect." By...

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