How does the painter convey his idea of "Manifest Destiny? How do the colors in painting convey ideas about the land and people?  What are the attitudes of each of the people portrayed in the...

How does the painter convey his idea of "Manifest Destiny? How do the colors in painting convey ideas about the land and people?  What are the attitudes of each of the people portrayed in the painting?

Asked on by kaitonglin

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It is not clear what painting you are asking about, so I am making an educated guess and am assuming that you are asking about the painting “American Progress” which was made by John Gast in 1872.  I assume this because Gast’s painting is the most famous painting that depicts the idea of Manifest Destiny.

The main idea of this painting is that the modern ideas and technologies of the white Americans are moving across the continent and making it a more prosperous and civilized place.  This process is portrayed as a good thing for the world.  We can see this through the artist’s use of color.  The east (the right side of the painting) is portrayed in light colors.  The goddess is portrayed in pure white and the farmers behind her are mostly clothed in white.  The rays from the rising sun are bright.  In the west, everything (except for the high and forbidding mountains) is dark.  This is meant to symbolize the idea that the civilization that the white people are spreading across the continent is good (white has long been associated with purity and goodness).  The darkness in the west symbolizes the backwardness and unenlightened nature of the Indians.  Because the Indians are backwards and the whites are civilized, it is the whites’ manifest destiny to overcome the Indians.

The attitudes of the people in the painting can also be contrasted.  The Indians are fleeing, their bodies leaning forward.  They are looking behind themselves in fear of what is coming.  They are afraid and they probably know that they are the inferior people who are to be overwhelmed by those who come from the east.  The white people, by contrast, are upright and confident.  Their attitude is that they are sure to dominate the continent.  They do not show any anxiety in the way that the Indians do.  They know that their manifest destiny is to take over the entire continent.

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micheala14's profile pic

micheala14 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

The Manifest Destiny was the dream for America to expand from coast to coast. There are many symbols in the painting. Such as, the angel which represents God's wish for Americans to move across North America and settle in those areas. Also the Indians symbolize the Indian Removal from Northern America.

rachellopez's profile pic

rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Even though you did not state which painting you are referring to, I can assume it is "American Progress" by John Gast because it is one of the most famous and it has been discussed in my classes when learning about this topic.

Manifest destiny was the dream for America to expand from coat to coast and that it was God's wish. The angel in the painting represents Gd's wish for Americans to move across North America and settle those areas. The painting also shows people moving from east to west, the Indians and buffalo before them which portrays the removal of Indians from their land. The Indians and animals seem frightened while the other people and the angel seem calm. 

The east side of the painting is much lighter than the west and the angel/people are dressed in white or other bright colors. This implies that the American colonists are superior and that settling across the whole continent was good. The darkness in the painting is over the Indians, symbolizing that they are inferior and not civil. 

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