Main Travelled Roads
Research Log Options:
- Was the idea of owning your own farm part of the American
identity in the nineteenth century? In order to get some sense of the importance
of land ownership in early America, read some of the Crevecoeur's
"Letters from an American Farmer."
- To consider the ways in which the early Jacksonian ideal
may have continued into the nineteenth century, consult Frederick Jackson's
Turner's seminal work, The Importance of the Frontier in American History.
See what you can find out about why so many people were willing to leave
their homes behind and head westward. What did they think they would find,
and where did get their images of the west? How does Garland's fiction
offer a portrayal of the hopes which drew these Americans westward; what
does his fiction suggest about the relationship between the dreams which
motivated them and the reality they found when they arrived? (An essay
which draws upon Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land to explain the significance
of Garland's "Under the Lion's Paw" can be found at
- What kind of life did people find once they moved west,
and how did this confirm or contradict their expectations? At Perspectives
on the West, a site sponsored by PBS, you will find photographs documenting
the conditions of homesteading life.
- Garland's farmers often find themselves in trouble over
money. Do some investigation to learn more about mortgages, land speculation,
banks, and agrarian reform. (You may want to start by reading "")
What kinds of problems were farmers encountering during the period in which
Garland was writing? Do we find portrayals of these problems in Garland's
fiction? (Explain and give examples.) What argument does Garland seem to
be making with his fiction--in other words, whose side is he on in this
argument, and how can we tell?
- Some of Garland's most interesting characters are women.
Do some research to learn more about the lives of farm women during the
nineteenth century. One source of information is the exhibit on "California as I
Saw It": First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years,
1849-1900 at the Library of Congress. You can also visit the Women
in America site sponsored by the Crossroads Project in order to read
what foreign visitors to the U.S. had to say about the women they encountered
on their journeys.) What kinds of problems did these women encounter, and
how did Garland depict these problems in his fiction?
- How was the westward movement regarded by nineteenth
century Americans? Consider the attitudes expressed by Emmanuel Leutze's
painting, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes
Its Way." If you're interested in pursuing
this topic further, key words you can use to guide your search include:
"westward movement," "manifest destiny," and "homestead*."
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