The Mount Rushmore Story Essay - Critical Context

Judith St. George

Critical Context

St. George contends that historical monuments cannot be understood out of context, that an analysis of them requires a sensitivity to the entire cultural environment of their era. Addressing the story of Mount Rushmore with these thoughts in mind, the author has succeeded in creating a thought-provoking work for young adults. While The Mount Rushmore Story is indeed a biography of Borglum, on another level it implies a condemnation of the nineteenth and twentieth century American habit of “relieving” tribes of their lands, their culture, and their livelihood. Introduced to the often-neglected Native American viewpoint, young readers’ sensitivities are heightened; St. George encourages young people to see from another vantage point and to unravel the myths that color many traditional accounts of the clashes between white settlers and the Great Plains tribes. The author notes, with some incredulity, that the “Sioux victories over professional armed soldiers were called massacres, while Army victories over the Sioux, which often included the slaughter of whole villages, were called battles.” Readers are thus introduced to the role that semantics plays in historical accuracy.

The book further implies that individual readers need be responsible for their own evaluation of the magnificence or the outrageousness of Borglum’s most widely known sculpture. By allowing for “each person to interpret individually the significance of this ancient granite mountain,” St. George gives young people license to question ethnocentric accounts and to inquire about that which has been omitted from traditional historical reports about the Black Hills: its first inhabitants.