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History as Narrative

I found this paper particularly difficult to write simply because of my sheer interest and curiosity about the question of literary works as focal points upon which to better understand the multitudinous nature of American history and culture — there’s no denying the relationship between history and stories, I just cannot see yet if there is even a difference between the two. Reading articles like “Growth and Expansion” from An Empire of Slavery suggests to me that my so-far assessment of this relationship is rather accurate, that there are points of historical fact (irrefutable events such as the enslavement of Africans by whites in antebellum America) upon which narratives whir from the perspectives of every single individual which create and fill in the rest — sort of like a time line where the “line” is actually narrative. This article (“Growth and Expansion”) uses accounts of many various individuals in order to assess and derive greater clarity and detail of historical facts — I just happen to be more interested in how protest or fiction literatures utilize these focal points of historical fact.

Cesar Chavez wrote in his Letter from Delano, “history is a story of social revolution.” I believe this story forms the bedrock of American culture and, despite my own reservations about “Love Cemetery,” Galland’s book does illustrate this insight very well. Her constant (and sometimes jarring) flashes to past events and need to overcome modern injustices reveal — via her own narrative — a new chapter of history (this “new” history coming from the addenda of her own narrative voice and retelling, reconfiguring of historical events and individuals) as well as a continuance of the American social revolution which seems to have always been spinning since the idea of “America” came to be — since those rebellious Europeans fled to become the dwellers of the City Upon a Hill who in turn went to massacre the Piquot Indians.

I did find the information on the relationship between the Native Americans and the enslaved African Americans (the information found in the “Growth and Expansion”) particularly interesting. This interested me, not because I had been wholly unaware of this violent relationship, but because it made me realize that black and white Americans have been fighting with each other against common “enemies” for over a hundred years whether it was against the Comanches or against the Germans and yet somehow racial prejudices have managed to persist even into today’s culture. How is this possible? Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that one of the best thing about America, one of the great safe-guards of American liberal democracy was that it didn’t leave an opportunity for a war hero to rise up and become a tyrant off his war glory — this suggests that war glory is a powerful force of unification, and so one would think that all of these battles would’ve helped bridge the gap a bit between black and white Americans.

I suppose it’s as we discussed in my American Politics class earlier today — power is delightful and thus “absolute” power is absolutely delightful. If white Americans really held the power they thought they did over other races, then perhaps they simply enjoyed it too much (whether financially or emotionally) to relent and face the cognitive dissonances of their ethical justifications for slavery.

What do you think?

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