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John Muir, Christopher Columbus and Manifest Destiny

Updated on November 9, 2014

A Bread Famine by John Muir

John Muir’s, “A Bread Famine”, definitely shows evidence of Manifest Destiny. According to the Library of Congress, the incentive for the drive West was fueled by religious beliefs, and some settlers were of the belief that the expansion of America was ordained by God. Many of these settlers viewed the Native Americans as less than human and heathenistic (LOC). In John Muir’s text, one piece of evidence of such beliefs rest in Billy’s comments regarding his reaction to the lack of bread in the following quotation: “It’s not fittin grub for a white man really white. For dogs and coyotes and Indians it’s different” (Muir 75). Here, the reader observes the belief that Americans are superior to Native Americans, even more human. It is such beliefs that impact the views that Americans are actually saving the heathens from themselves with expansion. On the other hand, Muir himself documents personal comments that counteract some of these beliefs. Observe the following quotes regarding his personal thoughts: “Just bread and water and delightful toil is all I need,—not unreasonably much, yet one ought to be trained and tempered to enjoy life in these brave wilds in full independence of any particular kind of nourishment” (Muir 78). “Like the Indians, we ought to know how to get the starch out of fern and saxifrage stalks, lily bulbs, pine bark, etc. Our education has been sadly neglected for many generations” (Muir 80). Here Muir exhibits an envy for his lack of a connection with nature and the ability to supplement what is lost to his body with the lack of bread. He praises the Native Americans for their ability to supplement certain nourishment to the body, for not being dependent on man made supplement. Although his text documents Manifest Destiny beliefs, there is evidence that Muir himself may not have completely adopted them. In living in an urban environment, there is a longing for nature and the ability to connect to it. This is why many city people partake in going on hiking trips and camping to sort of get away from the city atmosphere. Americans do hold a collective attitude that there are times when we must step in as saviors to the world in order to save less fortunate nations and people from themselves, and Manifest Destiny incorporated this attitude.

The Letter Of Columbus To Luis De Sant Angel Announcing His Discovery

Columbus’ letter incorporates romanticized views of the United States. When describing Hispaniola, he states that “Hispaniola is a marvel. Its hills and mountains, fine plains and open country, are rich and fertile for planting and for pasturage, and for building towns and villages” (Columbus). However, he immediately goes on to state how wonderful the land will be to create “towns and villages” (Columbus) for the expansion. In one breath, Columbus speaks of the beauty of the land, and in the next, he makes statements of how wonderful it will be to tear down such beauty to form towns. I do not think that he means any harm in this statement, for I do not believe that early settlers could ever fathom the state of which the land would eventually evolve in harming the earth. However, I also do not think that he is completely sincere regarding a connection to the nature that he mentions in the text. According to John Wilford, Columbus’ letter also encompasses a bid for his stance in history, for he is aware that he needs documentation of his discoveries in order to become famed for his travels. To enjoy the discovery of the land for his self-satisfaction is not an option (Wilford 67). This is not an option because the whole point of his travels rest in expansion. Therefore, the tinge of the connection to nature that the reader observes in Columbus’ text is somewhat automatically superficial because the expansion limits it.

Works Cited

Columbus, Christopher. 'The Letter Of Columbus To Luis De Sant Angel Announcing His Discovery'. N.p., 2014. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.

The Library of Congress. "Manifest Destiny." N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Muir, John. "A Bread Famine." My First Summer in the Sierra,. Boston: Project Gutenberg Ebook,2010.

Wilford, John. "Columbus and the Labyrinth of History." The Wilson Quarterly (1991): 66-86. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.



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