Internal Migration Portrayed in Literature Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Two patterns for the movement of people emerge from American history. One or the other pattern, or some combination, characterizes most internal migration. The first pattern is immigration, a voluntary move; the second pattern is dislocation, a forced move. North America is often called a land of immigrants, populated by people who came from other countries or whose ancestors did. Immigrants come seeking the American Dream: freedom, success, prosperity, a home. Some soon found what they were seeking, but many others did not, so they moved on, generally westward. From the beginning, then, Americans have been restless seekers, on the move, pursuing their dreams. This spirit takes its purest form in road stories, prominent in American literature, whether the “road” is the Mississippi River in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) or the Beat generation’s highways in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) or the cheap motels in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955). Paradoxically, the Beat generation’s pursuit of drugs and sex and the pursuit of perversity in Lolita are, in one sense, continuations of the ancestral Puritan quest for salvation depicted in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). In stories of internal migration, people are seeking something good, whether or not they know exactly what it is.

Foreign critics tend to see this restlessness as a source of energy and as an ominous...

(The entire section is 502 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Internal migration in literary works set during the nineteenth century and earlier is generally westward, part of the settlement movement. Written almost always from the point of view of the settlers, the works emphasize frontier conditions, pioneer challenges, and relations with Native Americans. Typical of such works, except that he considers the Native American point of view, are James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841), such as The Pioneers (1823) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826). Much later representative works are those by Willa Cather, such as O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927). Few individual chroniclers of the westward migration stand out. Instead, such literature consists primarily of factual accounts of travel and exploration, of works by minor authors, and of popular literature. This literature contributed to a composite national myth for which no epic has yet been written, but which led to the creation of the Western and children’s classics such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935).

Based on the immigrant model, the literature of westward migration tends to celebrate an aggressive, acquisitive American identity. It culminates in tales of the gold rush (to California or Alaska) written by such authors as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Jack London. An exception to the immigrant model is Henry...

(The entire section is 446 words.)