Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Statue of Liberty. The Bald Eagle. Uncle Sam. Each is a symbol that is meant to stir feelings of nationalism and pride. Daniel Boone became a living symbol during his lifetime of the unconquerable American spirit and his story is captured for all time in Daniel Boone by James Daugherty, the winner of the 1940 Newbery Award.
The power of Manifest Destiny is in full swing throughout the narrative of Daniel Boone. From childhood Boone felt the pull of the West pulling him further out into the wild frontier. On his way, he helped many other pioneers by sharing his experience, advice, and fighting skills. Sadly, he found and lost every land claim he made due to incomplete paperwork, which is truly a sign of American bureaucracy at its best. Still, his influence was far reaching, and there is no way to tell how many people he helped endure the harsh conditions at the edge of the civilized world.
The story of Daniel Boone could be the story of America itself. As a fledgling nation, newly free and striving to carve out a place for itself from the wilderness, the United States stumbled its way through uncharted territories and grey areas. The mistreatment of the Indians is a particularly shady area, which Daugherty does recognize. He discusses the Indian’s reaction to having their land stolen and religion forced upon them on page 40, but every mention of Indians before and afterwards describes them as willful aggressors. Putting this book into historical context, I can understand why Daugherty perhaps was hesitant to color his story with too many shades of grey. He published Daniel Boone in 1939, as the Nazi party was gaining power and fascism threatened the fabric of America. This book is meant to inspire pride in the American spirit and belief in the American dream, and explaining how America was founded on the destruction of its indigenous people is hardly inspirational. In the New Eden, America must be seen as the “good guys” who fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Like all symbols, Daniel Boone has become more than his original image. From his beginnings as a symbol of hope and perseverance, after reading this book, he might even be a symbol of prewar propaganda.