Friday, May 18, 2012

Jon T. Coleman's "Here Lies Hugh Glass"

Jon T. Coleman is an associate professor of United States history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, which won the W. Turrentine Jackson Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation, and reported the following:
Open Here Lies Hugh Glass to page 99 and you find the sentence: “Bears and Americans suffered porous boundaries.” While the quip doesn’t explain the entire book, it does capture the central notion of environmental Americanism. Horribly mauled by a grizzly bear in 1823, Hugh Glass caught the attention of the American public because he represented the “new race” of men being created on the frontier through violent encounters with nature and Natives. When nineteenth-century Americans retold the bear story, they often ditched Glass. His animal attacker transfixed them instead. The bear and the man bled together, and Glass crossed over into animal territory. This was crucial to his celebrity because he modeled America best when he resembled a human least. To claim the continent, Americans needed representatives who merged with the western landscape. The bear naturalized Glass, made him more western and therefore more American. The bear also obscured him, revealing the tension in environmental Americanism. The public admired men remade by nature of the frontier, but they didn’t want to live near them. Thus, western heroes rode off into the sunset, or in Glass’s case, got buried under the girth of a grizzly.
Learn more about Here Lies Hugh Glass at the Hill and Wang website.

--Marshal Zeringue