Imagine being so desperate to escape the country of your birth that you find a ship and set sail hoping for something better. We’ve been studying the pilgrimage that our forefathers made hundreds of years ago, but in American literature, we look at the stories and accounts that construct the facts.
Our American story is one that necessarily involves struggle, hope and perseverance. William Bradford set sail on the Mayflower, settled upon a compact and founded Plymouth Rock but in the ensuing struggle lost his wife (literally) and half of those who put their trust in him for a better life.
Whoa! I ask students what they might do at this point, and many answer that it might be a good idea to turn around and go home, but then history might look very different. Bradford didn’t turn tail and sail — he responded to adversity by considering the logistics of the land, networking with the indigenous people and licensing his product by agreeing to the terms of a lifetime contract to live in peace with his neighbors.
The structural DNA of an American (and why we’re admired and hated) is to seek out opportunities and determinably work toward success. It’s why we love sports, competitions and measure “teams” against others. We’re prone to extravagance in an overabundant culture, but it isn’t the form of our existence but instead the function.
Yes, we can get a little carried away with hyperbole (Manning Bowl III — really?) and how much we don’t have (does having one television and one car really mean you’re poor?) and forget that we live in a nation blessed to be endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We can take the liberty and pursuit of happiness to extremes, but without the ideals in place, we might be looking for a sturdy ship to set sail on.
At least that's what I think.