Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

From all accounts, when Grove arrived in America he was conscious of a need for a special environment. His European upbringing had made him aware of the transient nature of material civilizations. In America, he hoped to find soil which would nurture his soul. He was on a quest for a promised land.

From the beginning of settlement the New World had been viewed as a land of promise, but with the passing of time, debate was to arise over the nature of the promise. In the United States, the period from the end of the Indian Wars to 1890 was one of western expansion. Those who rejected a commercial vision of the promised land could still head out to the Western frontier, where free land was available. By 1890, however, settlement had progressed to the point where there no longer remained anything resembling a frontier line. The New World was slowly filling up, and a dream of a new kind of promised land was usurping the old. While the first dream was still basically oriented around life on the land, the ultimate fruits of the new vision were to be achieved through Industrial Revolution. The nature of the dream was still essentially religious in its overtones, although the symbolism had changed from the agrarian to the mechanical. The machine was the new messiah come among men to lead them to salvation in the industrial cities of America.

Grove very early identified the conflict between the two visions of the promised land, and in A Search for America, he set out to explore the implications of this conflict. Central to the promised land motif is the importance of land itself. The agrarian landscape is less complex and therefore a better...

(The entire section is 684 words.)