Beyond the Frontier: Writers, Western Regionalism, and a by Harold Simonson

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By Harold Simonson

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Rölvaag's great theme is the cost of immigration, and in his three novels this cost is visited successively upon Per Hansa, his wife Beret and their son Peder. In portraying this family as players in a vast tragedy in which an open frontier proved only illusory, Rölvaag struck what he considered the essence of the Page 13 frontier experience. A people had crossed the Atlantic in search of a new Garden of Eden, only to discover freedom to be a delusion and a curse. Like Twain, Rölvaag questioned the assumption that time and place can create something new.

Coming of age means awakening to the realities that nations, like their people, are only mortal; that truth comes chiefly through ambiguity and paradox; that the old inheritance of pride still carries its inexorable consequences. These realities emphasize the common bondage all people share and the futility of their efforts to escape it. All this is the human condition, made tragic by the fact that pride and certain illusions live on. In our ‘‘universal bondage,” says T. S. ”1 To come of age is to recognize no exceptions, no annulments and, most importantly, no escape from the cycle of genesis and decay.

Muir's was a transcendental eye that perceived all things material and spiritual in harmony and himself harmonious with all things. Literally hundreds of passages from his books and journals document his search for that sublimity known to the Romantic consciousness as natural supernaturalism. In reading Muir one is constantly made aware that nature to him was emblematic and, moreover, that he would find in nature corroboration of his own selfhood and its salvation. In sharp conflict with Romanticism and its underlying ideas was the Calvinism instilled into young Muir by his father and the Scottish practice of orthodox piety.

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