The myth of the American Hero

Though I disagree with his conception of comic books (or graphic novels or whatever you want to call them) and I’m sure many other things as well, Joseph Bottum’s description of the Romantic localized heroification of American geography above and beyond actual heroes is quite interesting.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square:

“But you can see both the Emersonian demand in Whitman and the beginning of its answer—which is: the development of place, of locale, as the primary system of rhetorical figures for American character and behavior. From Mark Twain to Stephen Vincent Benet, from Bret Harte to the Greenwich Village Bohemians—whether they were romantics or realists, they were all engaged in the same project: the substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary. We don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes.”

American patriotism is about fighting for the land, fighting for the country, and fighting for freedom (that we envision via the land and country). However, I wonder if other countries’ forms of patriotism (Britain pops to mind) have more to do people, families, communities.


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