18 August 2014

The True Discovery of America

There is something to the use of words in speeches and in written form that I have always found fascinating. Why does a simple turn of the phrase catch us and send our minds reeling, but with a change of even a single word the same phrase can be considered commonplace? The same theory applies to the quotes we choose as our own personal mantras or as the personification of some event or place. There are an abundance of quotes that are suspended upon the walls of The American Adventure, and while they may stir feelings of patriotism in us, we tend to not delve any deeper into their place in history and what they truly mean.

Being a native Floridian who became enamored with Asheville, NC and that Blue Ridge Mountains half a lifetime ago, I developed a fondness for Thomas Wolfe in my formative years. It always pleases me to see Wolfe recognized in the grand vestibule of The American Adventure. But where does this quote come from and what does it mean?

The quote comes from his 1940 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. In the story George Webber returns to his hometown of Libya Hall. His first novel has been published and everyone in town feels as if he has laid their personal secrets bare for all the world to see. George is shocked at the response and by the fact that he receives threats of physical violence, all of which causes him to leave home a travel the world in an attempt to discover himself. While not completely autobiographical, the novel holds close to the true life experiences that Thomas Wolfe encountered after writing Look Homeward, Angel.

The quote at The American Adventure comes from the last chapter of You Can’t Go Home Again. George Webber has returned to America and has fallen in love with it all over again. The full quote from Chapter 48, Credo, reads:

“I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us. And I think that all these things are certain as the morning, as inevitable as noon. I think I speak for most men living when I say that our America is Here, is Now, and beckons on before us, and that this glorious assurance is not only our living hope, but our dream to be accomplished.”

So imbued with the sense that we are meant to create our own future, making it brighter than the world we live in today, that it has been used time and again to inspire. In fact, so powerful were the words of Wolfe that the same two lines that are recognized in The American Adventure were also utilized by John F. Kennedy to close out a campaign speech in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 17, 1960.

Words are powerful when we make the best use of them and not only take them as a momentary inspiration, but when we allow them to drive us forward. Which begs the question, which quote from the atrium of The American Adventure do you find speaks to you most often?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice blog on Thomas Wolfe. Have you been to the museum in Asheville, he was an interesting literary figure, and I'm excited to know he has a Disney connection!