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Summative Entry

America is a nation of paradoxes.

“Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.” (596)

This quote, in my opinion is crucial to the view of America as a nation of paradoxes. Ralph Waldo Emerson, alongside encouraging general self-reliance within the nation, urges his audience to speak their own subjective truth. America, has since, been built upon this idea, of each individual holding opinions that may differ completely from others, but is still innately true, to the individual.

The far spanning American experience is a testament to this contradiction and has been witnessed throughout this unit. Each author has presented various aspects, all innate to the American experience, but differing all the same.  

For example, the letter I wrote to James Baldwin regarding his short story “Going to Meet the Man”(1331) (https://cameroncole.home.blog/2019/09/13/write-a-letter-to-james-baldwin-telling-him-what-you-think-of-the-power-of-his-writing-in-regards-to-going-to-meet-the-man/) is filled equally with praise and horror for his brutally accurate depiction of both a lynching and the common racism that existed (and still exists today) within American society. In short, the story that James Baldwin writes depicts the truth of the African American experience at that time, one filled with brutality, violence and cruelty. This truth is innate to the American experience, the plight of African Americans, plays a crucial role within American history, and has very much forged the nation into what it is today.

The works of e.e. cummings, almost in contrast, speak more of nature, love, and the innocence of childhood. I wrote an imitation poem (https://cameroncole.home.blog/2019/10/03/try-to-write-an-e-e-cummings-poem-using-your-own-subject-matter-but-sticking-to-his-language-and-form/), beginning with the same opening line as cummings “in just-“, and while not focussing on the same themes, rather I reflected the form of his poems, in its unpredictable spacing and punctuation. Despite this, the major themes of cummings are vastly different from the themes of Baldwin, yet both are innately integral to a depiction of the American experience. The works of both Baldwin and Cummings are majorly important to the portrayal of the American experience yet contradict one another. Where one speaks of brutality and violence, the other speaks of love and nature. Whilst being a testament to the wide and diverse American experience, they are also a key reminder of the paradoxical contradictions upon which the American experience is born and perpetuated.

In much the same way, my first blog post (https://cameroncole.home.blog/2019/08/22/critical-from-what-you-know-about-the-usa-has-anything-surprised-you-in-the-literature-that-has-been-introduced-to-you-so-far-in-this-unit/) reveals this same idea. Commenting on what it was that I had found surprising from the unit thus far, I spoke of how I now knew the “starting point” of many different ideas, that in current day I have been accustomed to. The example I used was the sentiment of Henry Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (913), and the political ideology of “Libertarianism”. In the same way that both Baldwin and Cummings reflect aspects of the American experience, yet contrast thematically, politically Thoreau’s ideologies are crucial to one cornerstone of American political thought, whilst being in direct contradiction, for example, the socialist tendencies of Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders. Even in this small footnote, the paradoxical contradictions upon which the American experience is built, can be seen.

Hence, America is a nation of paradoxes. Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s urge to contradict, the US has become a society built upon contrast, upon difference, yet is a nation that displays, at times, a unity unparalleled. Hence, it is this contrast, these paradoxical contradictions, that ultimately represent the diversity of the American experience.

Works cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Shorter 9th Edition. Beginnings to 1865. Levine, Robert: W.W. Norton & Company. Inc. 2017. 596-613. Print.  

Baldwin, James. “Going to Meet the Man” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Shorter 9th Edition. 1865 To The Present. Levine, Robert: W.W. Norton & Company. Inc. 2017 1331-1343. Print

Thoreau, Henry. “Resistance to Civil Government.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Shorter 9th Edition. Beginnings to 1865. Levine, Robert: W.W. Norton & Company. Inc. 2017. 903-918. Print.  

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