The American wanderer

Cultural Insights — By on September 11, 2008 at 7:17 am

Wandering is ingrained in the American soul. There is a transience inherent in the U.S. which is somewhat exhilarating and sad at the same time, as it reflects both the rootlessness of millions of people but also the unique capacity of Americans to do or be almost anything they desire.

The NY Times recently published an intriguing article about this cultural trait. It looks at the topic through the prism of Barack Obama’s diverse family background, but the story describes an important element of the American character in ways that go far beyond politics.

The migrations never stop. Even today, 2 in 10 households in the nation move every 15 months to two years — a restlessness unique among the people of a developed nation.

“Unrootedness is, and always has been, part and parcel of being American,” Arnold Rampersad, a professor at Stanford University and biographer of Ralph Ellison and Hughes, said in an e-mail message. “It is the flip side of perhaps the defining aspect of Americanness, the capacity of its citizens to reinvent themselves.” …

None of which is to argue, precisely, that Americans are at peace with the rootless…“You might say Americans are conflicted within themselves,” said Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American studies at Columbia University. “There is a long and often sentimental tradition of celebrating the small town” — Andy Griffith’s Mayberry — “as the right kind of place to grow up and become morally solid.” At the same time, Mr. Delbanco notes, there is “a no less strong tradition of regarding the small town as airless and imprisoning.”

There is much more in the entire article. Check it out.

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