By Joel Daehnke
Westward expansion on the North American continent by European settlers generated a flurry of writings on the frontier experience over the course of a hundred years. Asserting that the dominant ideology of America’s Manifest Destiny embodied a tense, often contradictory union of Christian and secular republican views of social progress, In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer investigates the ambivalence of the frontier as it was inscribed with redemptive, historical significance by a host of frontier writers.
Enlisting canonical and noncanonical sources, Joel Daehnke examines the manner in which the imagery of the human figure at work and play in the frontier landscape participated in the nationalist, “civilizing” project of westward expansion. While he acknowledges the growing secularization of American life, Professor Daehnke surveys the continuing claims of the Christian redemptive scheme as a powerful symbolic domain for these writers’ meditations on social progress and the potential for human perfectibility in the landscapes of the West.
Whether discussing the Edenic imagery of women’s gardens, the advocacy of an ethics of land use, or the affairs of fortune in the mining districts of Nevada, In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer presents an enlightening reexamination of an American ideology of progress and its enduring fascination with mission, Manifest Destiny, and the ends of history.
In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer is a welcome addition to the extended library of critical attention to the ideology, history, and literary traditions of the American frontier.
The recipient of a Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship, Joel Daehnke teaches American literature and literary theory at the University of Northern Colorado. He lives in Boulder with his family. More info →
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