Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514
That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal...
(The entire section contains 514 words.)
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That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.
The above quote, from chapter one of Turner's book, lays out the particular traits of the American character that Turner attributes to the existence of an untamed frontier to be conquered. These traits include coarseness, strength, pragmatism, materialism, energy, and individualism.
Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines.
Again, following a long line of American writers going back to people like Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving, Turner is anxious to distinguish the American character from the European. To Turner, this difference comes from the existence of a frontier to conquer.
To-day we are looking with a shock upon a changed world. The national problem is no longer how to cut and burn away the vast screen of the dense and daunting forest; it is how to save and wisely use the remaining timber. It is no longer how to get the great spaces of fertile prairie land in humid zones out of the hands of the government into the hands of the pioneer; these lands have already passed into private possession. No longer is it a question of how to avoid or cross the Great Plains and the arid desert.
In the latter part of the book, Turner deals with the problem of what to do with American individualism and energy now that, for the first time in history in the 1890s, the frontier has closed. There is no new wilderness to conquer. He calls this a "shock."
All that was buoyant and creative in American life would be lost if we gave up the respect for distinct personality, and variety in genius, and came to the dead level of common standards. To be "socialized into an average" and placed "under the tutelage of the mass of us," as a recent writer has put it, would be an irreparable loss. Nor is it necessary in a democracy, as these words of Godkin well disclose. What is needed is the multiplication of motives for ambition and the opening of new lines of achievement for the strongest. As we turn from the task of the first rough conquest of the continent there lies before us a whole wealth of unexploited resources in the realm of the spirit.
Having outlined the western movement across America, Turner turns to a future without a limitless geographic horizon. In this quote, he rejects socialist solutions, what he calls "common standards," in favor of rugged individualism and advises Americans to turn this individualism and energy to new endeavors, such as in the sciences, business, and the arts.