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Of a Region and Nation



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Added 07-29-17 08:20:02am EST - “Imagine you're a young man from a small town in, say, Ohio. Nebraska would do just as well, I suppose. Kansas, Wisconsin, or South Dakota, for that matter.” - Freebeacon.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Freebeacon.com: “Of Regions and Nations, Review: 'From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920–1965,' by Jon Kevin Lauck”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Imagine you're a young man from a small town in, say, Ohio. Nebraska would do just as well, I suppose. Kansas, Wisconsin, or South Dakota, for that matter. But let’s stick with Ohio, since the particular young man I have in mind was born in what's now Martins Ferry in 1837, over on the eastern edge of the state, and grew up mostly in the town of Hamilton, out in the western reaches of Ohio.

So, you're young, full of unrealized talent—a promising kid, as they used to say, although the promise remains unfocused—and you're hungry to accomplish something important. What do you do? Where do you go?

American literature has always insisted on the desire of the young to flee civilization, Huck Finn's wish to light out for the territory. But in real life, it's far more typical for the ambitious young to flee the settled civilization of their small towns and head off to the established cultural centers of the big cities.

In the case of the literary figure William Dean Howells, our less-than-hypothetical young man from Ohio, that meant settling in Boston, back in the days when Boston was the most culturally prestigious city in America, and becoming editor of The Atlantic in 1871. (It also meant heading to Manhattan and editing Harper's in 1886, as clear a signpost as we have for the era in which New York was overtaking Boston in cultural status.)

Nowadays you might head to New York or Hollywood or even Nashville, each a cultural center in its own way, although Washington, D.C., is a more likely destination for the young with unfocused ambition in our current cultural arrangement. The one certain thing is that you won't stay to molder in Hamilton, Ohio. Or Wahoo, Nebraska; Wauwatosa, Wisconsin; or Pierre, South Dakota. Our picture of small-town life in America was always defined in part—and maybe now in whole—by the people who left, rather than the people who stayed.

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