"Modern American character consists of those attitudes and traits that Americans tend to have more of than other people have, or than they themselves used to have," writes Rupert Wilkinson, who teaches history and American studies at Sussex University, England. With great energy and cultural intensity, he carries on in the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville and Frederick Jackson Turner gathering insights and understandings of this the United States and the diverse values which animate it.
Two character qualities have played a large part in American history: individualism and community. From classic cowboy films through the latest superhero flicks the tension between these two impulses is repeated again and again. Wilkinson also examines the four fears which put a smother hold on Americans: "The fear of being owned (including fears of dependence and being controlled and shaped by others; the fear of falling apart (a fear of anarchy and isolation); the fear of winding down (losing energy, dynamism, forward motion); and the fear of falling away from a past virtue and promise."
Wilkinson draws from many sources and segments of the population to make his points about the American character. Here, for example, is a comment on community by John Lewis, who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement:
"We were a circle of trust, a sort of band of brothers. Those people that I struggled with, and went to jail with, and went to lunch counters and on freedom rides with, these folks really became my family. I think Martin Luther King, Jr,. himself, sort of being the symbolic leader, gave all of us . . . a sort of sense of somebodyness. Being involved tended to free you . . . … you saw yourself as the free man, as the free agent, able to act.
After what Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say, what he did, as an individual you couldn't feel alone again."
This is a brilliant addition to the catalog of American Studies books.