The Strenuous Life

Our America: The Abiding Question of Nation and National Identity in American Literature College

American character is heavily based upon the persona of the adventurer, someone who fearlessly explores the wilderness, the unknown. Theodore Roosevelt says in his 1899 speech, “The Strenuous Life”, that, “The men who founded these communities showed practically by their life work that it is indeed the spirit of adventure which is the maker of commonwealths” and that “...the conditions of development in the west have steadily tended to accentuate the peculiarly American characteristics of its people” (Roosevelt, 1141). However, Roosevelt later embellishes on his definition by establishing the American as a hero as well as a conqueror, with national identity being based upon victory over nature. Roosevelt’s connection of the adventurous American character with the conquering of the West is in tandem with the universal trope of overpowering nature, something that is explored in Jack London’s naturalist short story, To Build a Fire (1908). London uses the story to question what it means to be an American when the adventurous individual who attempts to take on nature is instead challenged to the death by nature itself. Using the content of Roosevelt’s speech as a model of the classic American character, this essay will explore the...

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