Brandishing the Gun: Representations in Early American Literature, 1500-1800




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This dissertation explores early American literary representations of firearms, both pistols and rifles. Its primary purpose is to provide an overview of a few samples of early American perceptions of guns and explore ways in which such perceptions were formed upon the American frontier and helped create American culture and identity. Furthermore, it examines ways these texts mythologize, interpret, and symbolize gun use. It shows how authors turn to the gun to answer basic questions about acquiring food, safety, and future colonization. Firearms also promoted the idea of cultural dominance and Manifest Destiny. The shooter’s actions were often sanctioned by God or couched in heroic endeavors. Such depictions contribute to American identity and the construction of the nation’s Gun Culture. As authors turn to the gun as a means to answer their current sociopolitical issues, the complexities that Early America confronts are disregarded or “tabled” for later debate or for future authors. This study asserts America has a collective consciousness or understanding of gun use. It explores the political issues that early explorers and Americans encountered concerning firearms and addresses in what manner these anxieties or concerns are demonstrated. More specifically, these narratives reflect the attitudes early Americans had concerning gun use before, during and after the writing of the Second Amendment. Ultimately it provides an account of how early American literature reflects, questions, and employs values found within American identity and the American frontier.



Literature--History and criticism--Early works to 1800, American literature, Firearms in popular culture, Firearms in literature


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