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Written by Timothy Sexton
Kennedy turns to a common metaphorical trope of comparing a person to the land from which they famous are closely associated in describing the country’s sixth President. While this is a commonly used metaphor, the literary term used to describe it is far less familiar. Essentially, this is the opposite of personification which is the lending of human traits to a non-human entity. The word for lending non-human traits to a human entity is “chremamorphism” though most prefer the most obvious meaning of “objectification.”
“Harsh and intractable, like the rocky New England countryside which colored his attitude toward the world at large, the Puritan gave meaning, consistency and character to the early days of the American Republic.”
A Metaphorical Motif
Kennedy makes much of the fact that Lamar’s career was one which thrived in surrounding atmosphere of the early death of friends, family and associated. This recurring motif is eventually applied as direct metaphor to the circumstances of Lamar’s personal state of mortality:
“Lamar’s own military career was ended by an attack of apoplexy, a disease from which he suffered throughout his entire life and which hung over him like death in moments of high excitement.”
Fighting Metaphor with Metaphor
The author quotes another writer’s use of chremamorphism to describe the imposing appearance of the man considered possibly America’s greatest orator, Daniel Webster: “amorphous crag-like face; the dull black eyes under the precipice of brows, like dull anthracite furnaces needing only to be blown; the mastiff mouth accurately closed” as a way of engaging his own use of metaphor to undo the image constructed by such language:
“Certainly that striking appearance was half the secret of his power, and convinced all who looked upon his face that he was one born to rule men. And Daniel Webster was not as great as he looked. The flaw in the granite was the failure of his moral senses to develop as acutely as his other faculties.”
“few would deny that the desire to be re-elected exercises a strong brake on independent courage.”
Manifestations of courage are throughout portrayed as complicated consequences that result from often less than courageous necessity. Many of those profiled served in the Senate which makes this insight into why the book is not nearly as thick as it could be.
“However clear the effect of his courage, the cause is shadowed by a veil which cannot be torn away.”
Those who did manage to make into the book should thus not be seen as “courageous men” nor should men who show courage be viewed in terms of a monolithic character. One of the points of the book is that displays of courage are inextricably tied to circumstance and that circumstances which conspire to produce an act of courage in one person may fail to do so in another who is otherwise universally regarded as the more courageous of the two overall.
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