Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860

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9780060976828: Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860

In Regeneration Through Violence, the first of his trilogy on the mythology of the American West, Richard Slotkin shows how the attitudes and traditions that shape American culture evolved from the social and psychological anxieties of European settlers struggling in a strange new world to claim the land and displace the Native Americans. Using the popular literature of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries-including captivity narratives, the Daniel Boone tales, and the writings of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville-Slotkin traces the full development of this myth.

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Review:

On the basis of his sweeping 1975 survey of American Colonial and early Republican literature, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860, Richard Slotkin has approached the pop guru status of archetypal excavators such as Joseph Campbell, despite the fact that his work emphasizes the dark undercurrents of American culture. His argument in Regeneration is that, as the British colonists established their own societies in the wilderness, they expressed their regional desires for territorial expansion and self-rule by reinventing their history. Their narratives, according to Slotkin, revolved around frontiersmen who internalized, then disciplined, the "savagery" of their new environments, using their newfound mastery of nature to transform the wilderness into a revitalized civilization. Slotkin begins by examining how narratives of King Philip's War transformed New England from a demon-haunted Puritan enclave to a region where Indian killing represented progress and prosperity. Daniel Boone's paradoxical backwoods mixture of aggression and reflection serves as an icon for the rest of Regeneration, which emphasizes sectional variations of the Indian hunter myth, while analyzing the more "serious" literary endeavors of Cooper, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville.

Regeneration reads at times like a noir-ish variation on Frederick Jackson Turner's influential The Frontier in American History, a vision in which genocide, white supremacy, and environmental exploitation are the real engines driving the nation's expansion. At a time when even the bloodiest of war films extols family values in the midst of combat, Slotkin's grim tour of the United States' collective cultural history demands a wide audience. --John M. Anderson END

About the Author:

Richard Slotkin is Olin Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Wesleyan University. He is the author of Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 and Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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