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STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES:

CLASSIC LITERATURE ANALYSIS

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Puritan, Cavalier, and Frontier Cultures' Contributions To the American Character

The American character is unique, and was created in part by the diversity of those who settled here. Along with the western frontier settlement, the Puritan and Cavalier settlements of the northern and southern colonies created the foundation for our civilization today.

When the Anglicans, or Cavaliers, came from England to settle the southern colonies of North America, they brought with them many of the same customs that they had formerly used. Their ways, unlike those of the Puritans and Protestants settling the northern colonies, were very feudalistic because of the true feudalistic society that they had left in England. The Anglicans' feudalistic customs instituted in the New World affected every aspect of the society, including the economy, politics, and social system. The economy of the South was extremely feudalistic. In the South, only a small number of people owned all the land, and the rest of the population lived on it. Land meant money which meant power, and the individuals who had had land and power in England also had land in America. The same holds true today -- landowners are very powerful, and if they know how to use their land they can become rich. Social aspects of the southern colonies also affected modern American ways. In the New World, a Democracy was established, thus abolishing classes. Because of these new rules, the southern colonists became a society of deference, or internalized class system. An internal class system is one that is not as a law, but is implied among those of such a society. Today the South is still a society of deference. The South's strong military tradition was also similar to that of today's society in the sense that nearly everyone who was physically capable was destined to join the military. Racism, which was common until very recently, was a result of the southerners owning slaves and constantly having to deal with black Africans. Education in the South also affected today's education. It was a low priority for the Cavaliers, so as a result the South houses very few of the nation's best. The male mentality of having to be tough and able to defend his honor was another result of Cavalier ways. The men of the South have always tried to be macho, and this quality in them has made our nation dysfunctional. Men murder a great deal, drive fast, and have a desire to be as tough as a street fighter. Politics in the South were also very feudalistic. Although a trace of the southerners' desire to have central rule does show up today, the Cavaliers hardly affected modern politics at all.

The Puritans, however, affected modern character far more. Politically, they made sure there was morality in politics, because they were such a religious group of settlers. They also believed in a strong and centralized government. Both of these political aspects appear in modern politics. The fact that the Puritans believed they were on a mission from G-d has affected our social life today. Americans believe that the church, or religion, has an important role in society. We believe that we are a unique and special people whose reason for existing on this continent is to serve G-d. Education is another social aspect that the Puritans affected. The northern states, where the Puritans originally settled, have in them some of the best colleges in the world, and definitely the best in the country. The Puritans also introduced the concept of a manufacturing and trade economy. The Puritans' institutions of Democracy and Capitalism is extremely important to the operation of America today. With their three major developments of Capitalism, Protestantism, and individualism, Protestants drastically reshaped the modern American character.

The frontier culture also contributed drastically to American character. The pioneers' necessity to cope with natural barriers, survive in near anarchy, and be completely self-sufficient, has greatly affected the American culture of today. One of the areas affected by the frontier experience was politics. People on the frontier learned how to be very individualized, pushing their way through whatever barriers nature presented. This individuality has led Americans to develop a government that facilitates individualism. This mentality is shown in the nation's protests to the government's increasing intervention in our personal lives. However, a changing, growing nation requires changes in government. In the so-called "Wild West", government does not pay as close attention to people's actions, and this was where the vast majority of the nation's reforms we know today originated. For example, initiative, referendum, recall, and term limits were all reforms born in the West. The reason for the government's low involvement in Westerners' daily lives is that for centuries, even to this day, many parts of the West have still been developing their society, civilization, and state governments. This is unlike the East, where we have always been on the populated and civilized side of the frontier. In the East, people tend more to accept the government's rules, coming to the conclusion that there is nothing they can do about it. The United States of America is a diverse but tolerant social mixing pot. Unlike most other nations, America is a safe haven for many, many races and religions, and many immigrants are still amazed by the high level of tolerance America holds. Our tolerance comes from the fact that so many ethnic groups arrived here during the settlement. Furthermore, in the West many different types of people can settle without upsetting one another because of the vast empty space out west to separate them. In addition to our toleration of race and religion, America gives more privileges to its women than most other countries. This results from the fact that during settlement the women were required to do certain mandatory work. They had nearly the same status as men in most aspects of their lives, and even to this day American women have more rights -- such as owning land and voting -- than women in other nations. The frontier also affected modern American economy. During settlement, people did not need or want a government to interfere with the country's economy. Thus they established a laissez-faire economic system, one that withdraws from citizens' personal daily economic activities and is closely related to Capitalism. Economy in America is one of speculation and risk taking; America was settled so quickly because of the fact that everything was abundantly available, and risk-taking was really not a risk. Even now, people constantly take great financial risks knowing that the odds are so in their favor. Americans also have a strong technological bias, and are a people of tools and gadgets, so to speak. We have been such an inventive country because of the fact that we always needed to devise some way to get around an obstacle we found in nature. Psychologically, the joy Americans' get out of solving puzzles, results from the fact that there were innumerable tasks and problems set before the average frontiersman each day. The settlers had no choice but to solve these problems one way or another, or they would die. One negative aspect about the psychology of our society is that we are one of violence. This mentality results from the fact that out on the frontier when there was no government, each man would have to settle his own problems, and if it involved violence or killing, so be it. No one would even notice a murder. Although we are a violent people, however, we believe in egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in status. There were simply so many types of people, rich or poor, that worked in the same way, earning money the same way, that a class system was not important. American psychology was deeply impacted by the frontier experience. The frontier experience was very important in shaping modern American culture.

The Puritan, Cavalier, and frontier cultures, all different in their own ways, have together shaped the American character. The diversity of those who immigrated to and settled America to settle it has drastically affected the way Americans live and function today.

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