I need the best attempt at giving all of the major themes in Greg Grandin's Fordlandia.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One distinct theme that is in Grandin's work is a modern definition of tragedy. The theme of seeking to appropriate the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity is a driving force in Fordlandia.  Ford wished to export his own subjectivity into the Amazon due to his unhappiness with European control on rubber.  At the same time, he imposed "Main Street, U.S.A." in the middle of the Amazon. Like Faust, Frankenstein, or Emma Bovary, the results are disastrous.  

While Ford wished his creation to be “an example of his particular American dream, of how Ford-style capitalism — high wages, humane benefits and moral improvement — could bring prosperity to a benighted land," the consequences were a "broiling, pestilential hellhole of disease, vice and violence."  While Ford's own desire to appropriate the world of the Amazon in accordance to his own subjectivity dominated his thinking, Grandin suggests that he failed to understand the world in which he was entering.  While Fordlandia possessed much in way of hopes and aspirations, “what it didn’t have was a horticulturalist, agronomist, botanist, microbiologist, entomologist or any other person who might know something about jungle rubber and its enemies.” Fordlandia represented a desire to appropriate the world in line with Ford's own subjectivity, a failing endeavor that resulted in Ford Motor Company selling off the land for a small fraction of the over 20 million dollars they invested in it. For the capitalist to take such a heavy loss speaks to the thematic condition of failure in seeking to appropriate the world in accordance to one's myopic subjectivity.

The desire for power and control is another theme evident in Grandin's account. Ford is driven by the need to control elements that exist outside of his own dominion.  Ford's frustration at the European monopoly on rubber as well as his own desire to move the Ford name into a realm of the Amazon so removed from his control motivated his desire to establish Fordlandia.  The theme of power and control was also seen in how Fordlandia was governed.  Prohibition of alcohol, the belief that workers would be subservient to Ford's rules, and the idea that everyone associated with the settlement would pledge their allegiance to Ford were all examples of the control that helped to generate Ford's endeavor.  Ford never foresaw that workers would rebel against Prohibition, and that they would leave after they had made a meager amount of money.  Ford never envisioned that so many people who were charged with overseeing his vision would turn to illegal smuggling or simply lose control, themselves.  Men who were charged with working for Fordlandia declared themselves the “rubber seed king of the upper rivers" and chased animals with perfume.  Such a vision reflects how the theme of power and control took a toll on many.

Finally, there is a theme of modern futility throughout Fordlandia.  One of the most innovative thinkers in American History was reduced to futility due to his pursuit of such a dream.  Ford was transformative in his car production and in how he changed American life.  Despite this, his endeavors were futile in seeking to establish a new world both for his profit and his exporting of "American values." Someone who possessed so much in terms of energy and wealth found only futility as a result, a dominant theme in Grandin's exploration.

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