On Our Way Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

On Our Way should appeal to contemporary young readers in two ways: It presents the American past in unusually vivid and concrete terms, as it was actually lived, and it shows the universality of certain themes and concerns in everyone’s life. The young Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard facing death in the frontier wilderness, Eddie Foy stumbling through the smoke and flames of the Great Chicago Fire clutching his screaming infant brother, Frederick Douglass desperately trying to survive efforts to “break” him—all these accounts and others like them make periods in United States history that might have seemed abstract suddenly quite immediate. The na-tion’s past is full of real people dealing with their own particular sets of challenges and disasters. On Our Way makes history come alive.

The book is interesting not only as history but also as psychology. Its accounts should interest students as they read of these young people having the same doubts and the same dreams of success that they experience themselves. The book also invites comparison with contemporary life. Family patterns, for example, have changed in some ways, yet in others they remain the same. One could also ask whether African Americans continue to face the stereotypes and prejudices that Hughes describes, or whether a farm boy could still move into major league baseball with the remarkable speed that Feller did in the 1930’s. The book might lead young readers to look more closely at their own experiences and could even be a springboard to their writing short autobiographies of their own, finding and describing similarly “defining experiences” from their own lives.