George Washington: Man and Monument Summary


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Marcus Cunliffe’s George Washington: Man and Monument is a compressed, perceptive biography that furnishes facts about Washington’s life while describing and interpreting his legend. The author separates man from myth while tracing Washington’s life from a surveyor, young army officer, and planter to a general and the president of the United States. A frontispiece illustrating Charles Peale Polk’s heroic portrait, George Washington at Princeton and an informative chronology of Washington’s life precede the book’s five chapters.

The first chapter, “The Washington Monument,” presents Cunliffe’s metaphor for the legendary figure created by mythmakers: Washington’s four facets (that is, the four sides of the monument) the biographer dubs “Copybook Hero,” “Father of His People,” “Disinterested Patriot,” and “Revolutionary Hero.” Cunliffe maintains that Washington was an eighteenth century individual who was bequeathed to later gen-erations as a legend created by nineteenth century copybook writers, such as Parson Weems, who promulgated the stalwart virtues of self-help, duty, thrift, and honesty. (Through them, for example, Washington became the apocryphal “I-cannot-tell-a-lie” lad.) The myth’s second facet is the distinctively American “father” who defends against challenges from outside. The third facet is that of the patriotic yet disinterested leader who is disdainful of power and glory and is aloof...

(The entire section is 468 words.)