When discussing what it means to be truly American, the topic of freedom comes up a plethora of times. Whether it’s the president promising it or famous documents making it law by which Americans must live by, Americans thrive freedom. Throughout the numerous narratives we have discussed, regarding American values, the common theme of freedom is prominent. More specifically, the quest to achieve individual freedom is shown through countless American narratives. The narratives being from numerous points and perspectives in American history allow for the larger hypothesis that American narratives are dominated by the quest for individual freedom. This generalization is supported by texts mainly from the 19th to the 20th century, a time when Americans consider to be the turning point in the value of freedom.
Conversing on the topic of individual freedom there comes a plethora of different ideas associated with the concept. Ideas such as racial freedom and even freedom from society/family come up. Regarding society/family there is still a large range of topics that can fit within the generalization such as the role of a woman. Within the narrative The Awakening the protagonist Edna Pontellier is tired of the societal and familial norms she is placed under. “She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul from responsibility”(Chopin 82).
This quote gives the understanding that she has no control over her life and rather just does as she is told without any of her input. “He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world”(Chopin 147-148). From this quote, the perspective of her husband can be seen. As the narrative continued she slowly achieves the freedom that she had been wanting for an extraneous amount of time. The Awakening shows the quest for individual freedom which so commonly dominates American narratives.
People of color were struggling to receive the racial freedom that they aspired, pushing them to revolt against the government in hopes of receiving the rights/freedom that they deserved. On April 16, 1963 a letter written by Martin Luther King JR was meant to give the colored people of the time the drive for and the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. This letter is known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and it discusses numerous emotions of Martin Luther King JR who, during this time, was also fighting to achieve the racial freedom he deserved. “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood”(King 2).
From this quote, it can be interpreted that the drive Martin Luther King JR has for all colored people, including himself, to achieve this racial freedom was substantial and was a significant deal to him. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King 2). This quote shows the understanding of Martin Luther King of the situation and what he must do to achieve this racial freedom that he so much aspires for all the colored people of the United States. This text supports the idea of American Narratives, from all perspectives, were dominated by the ideology of the quest for individual freedom.
As America continued into the 20th century, it started to develop into a more technology-based nation, people’s quality of life got better, and the ideal American dream of family, prosperity, and health seems that much more of a reality. However, things aren’t going so hopeful and so perfect as it should be, being people are still feeling oppression at home from their family members and the demanding economy America required during that time. In 1944 a play was written regarding an American family during that time and the play was called The Glass Menagerie.
“ TOM: I haven’t enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it. It’s you that makes me rush through meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take. Sickening – spoils my appetite – all this discussion of – animals’ secretion – salivary glands – mastication! AMANDA [lightly]: Temperament like a Metropolitan star! [He rises and crosses downstage.] You’re not excused from the table. TOM: I’m getting a cigarette. AMANDA: You smoke too much”(Williams 3).
This quote shows Tom resenting the invasiveness and intruding attitude of his mother subtly stating the idea of individual freedom from his oppressive family. “I know I seem dreamy, but inside—well, I’m boiling! Whenever I pick up a shoe, I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing! Whatever that means, I know it doesn’t mean shoes – except as something to wear on a traveler’s feet!'(Williams 67) From this quote, it can be understood that the character is tired of the life he is living and the monotony is just adding to the urge to receive his freedom. The Glass Menagerie is another example of the quest for individual freedom within American narratives.
The topic of individual freedom will always be a reoccurring theme within American narratives. This is because there will never be true freedom while living in America, there will always be an oppressor and the oppressed. Whether it’s freedom from racial oppression or freedom from an oppressing society/family, people will always be seeking freedom. This freedom may not be easily achieved but it is easily written about especially within American narratives. American narratives are dominated by the quest for individual freedom; no matter the perspective of the writer, the color of the writer, and or the gender of the writer.