Turner Essay It is extremely difficult to avoid comparing the habits of ones own group of people to anothers. However, Turner is clearly guilty of this and he succumbs to prejudices of his time.
He is limited to writing about what he has seen, which may prove to be false and incomplete. Turner does not blatantly detest the Indian population of America but hints at a superiority of the “white man” in the following: “In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wavethe meeting point between savagery and civilization.” (Turner, p. 3) This statement, although not overwhelmingly inflammatory, still gently pushes the idea of the American Indians being unequal in terms of their culture as when compared to the mainly white European population of the Eastern half of the United States.
This type of misjudgment is what Nussbaum refers to as descriptive romanticism where a culture is condemned for its strangeness. It is human nature to fear what is different but it also in our capacity as thinking beings to overcome and appreciate those very differences that make us individuals.Turners picture of the Indians is really an opportunistic one in the sense that the Indian guides were of great help to settlers yet when it came to razing a village that was in the way, there were no qualms about that.
It is the western view of Indian culture that makes it out to be absent of any moral values, that it can be exploited if necessary. Turner explains in the following that eventually America had no interest in preserving the independence of the Indians and securing the frontier was of utmost importance: “the regulation of Indian trade, the purchase of Indian lands, and the creation and government of new settlements as a security against the Indians.” (Turner, p. 17) Turner does not seem to be a violent bigot but his indifference towards the gradual destruction of Indian villages does suggest that the expansion and settlement of the frontier came first and the lives of the Indians came in a distant second.
Turner and the rest of America either viewed the Indians as a foreign, strange group or as a mass that barely resembled human beings and deserved to be treated with little concern. The contradictory part of Turners narration is where he gives the Indians credit for leading the advance into the frontier but still considers them to be complacent when ordered to vacate their lands. Americans and Turner were both wrong in thinking that Indian culture was so different that certain values were missing and therefore the Indians need not be treated with respect. Nussbaums idea of descriptive romanticism is clearly at play in Turners work. Ignoring the similarities shared by all humans led to the justification of removing the Indian tribes to make room for more settlers.Turner is not an evil person and his work “The Frontier in American History” is a testament to the contrary in many ways.
However, there is an underlying echo of the superiority of the typical European settler in this article. Turner just seems to be interested in how America became what it is and what role the westward expansion played, but as one reads between the lines it becomes clearer that he like many others sees the Indians in a savage light.Bibliography: