Archetypal American

Archetypal American June 19, 2013

What is an American?

Twenty years ago, Garry Wills ( John Wayne’s America ) answered that the “archetypal American is a displaced person – arrived from a rejected past, breaking into a glorious future, on the move, fearless himself, feared by others, a killed cleansing the world of things that ‘need killing,’ loving but not bound down by love, rootless but carrying the Center in himself, a gyroscopic direction-setter, a traveling norm.”

In this, the American differs from other forms of humanity: Other cultures begin with a fixed and social hearth, a temple, a holy city. American life begins when the enclosure is escaped. One becomes American by going out. We are a people of departures, not arrivals. To reach one place is simply to catch sight of a new Beyond. Our basic myth is that of the frontier. Our hero is the frontiersman . . . . Freedom is out on the plains, under the endless sky.”

Wills overstates himself when he says that for the American “to become urban is to break the spirit of man.” America has plenty of cities, but they are American cities. Europe created cities radiating from the center. It took America to create the centerless city that never sleeps.

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