Sherman Alexie’s Separation Theory

I attended Sherman Alexie’s talk at the Chicago Humanities Festival. I was expecting him to talk about reservations and what it’s like to live on one, and while he touched on that, his closing statement resonated with me the most. He talked about how all of humanity originated from a single source. However, as in any society, a conflict between the people occurred, and one of the opposing sides decided to walk away to a new place. Once they reached their goal and settled down, conflicts happened in their group, which resulted in someone else separating. Alexie’s theory that this repeating cause-and-effect resulted in the exponential dispersion of humanity, as well as the countless and diverse cultures can be easily overlooked, but thought-provoking nevertheless. If one considers America’s background with this in mind, they will clearly see this pattern, and it is evident from this country’s first settlers to the numerous immigrants that flow in in the present day.

In the 1600s, people were largely coming to America to seek ways to make money. No one would have come if they were satisfied in their homeland, but the worsening economic statuses and lifestyles of the people in Britain’s wool districts were forced to seek new economic endeavours, and they found an outlet for that in America. Puritans, the Quakers and the Pilgrims all faced religious opposition in Britain, and even the Netherlands, took a stand for themselves, and fled to create their own religious societies in America. From those societies sprung up new ones, like Roger WIlliams’ Rhode Island- he took advantage of his exile, and created a settlement that had religious toleration in its roots. At Rhode Island, some groups felt they were oppressed by others, and went on to establish their Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, whatever it might be societies, just so they could live in accordance to their own beliefs and rules. On a grander scale, the Independence from Britain was the final cut of ties between the monarchy and its colonies. Similarly, the South’s secession from the North is a physical separation caused by their dissatisfaction of the government’s encroachment on principles they had relied on and valued.

While the religious aspect is still present, as the gears of time spun on, more people separated in the search of economic opportunity. The Germans, Irish, Scots-Irish, all came to America because their homeland provided insufficient resources. Once here, the East coast was running out of arable land and jobs, so people separated and decided to push on West. There, societies based on staple products, such as grain or meat were established, once again through separation.

In the present day, people’s motives have changed. Many still come to seek economic virtue, or religious freedom but new factors have come into play as well. Some see their nation’s educational system as inefficient, so they come here to pursue a better education. Others come here to escape war or political tensions that are ongoing in their homeland. Third groups of people come simply for vacation or rest. Whatever one’s rationale may be, their actions show their dissatisfaction with the past and what they did to change it. This is persistent through American history, and it has become one of the concrete American ideals.


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