Christopher Columbus: An Analysis of Myth Creation and Longevity in Early America
What is it about Christopher Columbus that elicits such varied reactions from the American public? Why is an Italian-born and Spanish-backed explorer who never set foot on American soil so integral to American culture that almost every state has some type of monument in his honor? The answer can be found in the literary works of a few American authors who published works about Columbus just after the end of the Revolutionary War. Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, and Noah Webster all used Columbus as a figure around whom the newly minted Americans could rally, and their work was so effective that the role of Columbus in American history is still being contended today. In fact, these authors made Columbus the first American hero, a decision which has made the explorer an inextricable part of our identity. Freneau bestows upon Columbus all of the behaviors and traits indicative of an archetypal American; Webster creates an action/adventure hero that captures the imagination of young Americans; Barlow designs a Columbus who is the father of the new Promised Land and is chosen by God to catalyze America’s greatness. All of these methods help to create, from fairly nebulous historical facts and dissimilar circumstances, a man who represents those things which America takes pride in and admires. This thesis analyzes the methods used to craft Columbus as a national hero that would served as the foundation for nascent American identity.
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