American Romanticism Essay

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Detriments of American Romanticization Since colonial times and the founding of the United States, Americans have held onto a belief that they can conquer and overcome any obstacle placed between them and their path to success. Whether the obstacle is conquering another country or raising a low-to-mediocre income in order to “make it” in America, there has been a long-standing belief that Americans will accomplish whatever they “need” to—as long as they push on with perseverance and do the “right thing” for their families and country along the way. But at what point does this idealization of the American Way become detrimental? In their respective works, “Editha” and Death of a Salesman, William Dean Howells and Arthur Miller present characters that represent the dangers of romanticizing American ideals specific to the time periods in which the works were written. Miller’s Willy Loman has complete faith in the American Dream; his life revolves around becoming the “self-made man” who pulls himself and his family toward success. But his obsession with this success (based on money and superficial popularity) is only harmful to himself and his family. Howells’ Editha believes in the heroic romanticism of war, and she insists that her fiancé enlist in the Spanish-American War, ignorant of the fatal consequences that may result. In analyzing and comparing these characters, the authors’ criticisms of romanticization become clear. Throughout “Editha,” “Howells characteristically explores the double moral failure of a society and of an individual who has been corrupted by its worst values” (Norton 288). The story, which was published in 1907 and presumably takes place during Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century, is brief but explicitly gets its point across: war should not be glorified or romanticized. In the story, Howells’ main character, Editha, is
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