Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 January 2021
World War I reversed America’s foundational movement of westward settlement. Indeed, some commentators including President Wilson viewed America’s involvement, notwithstanding its eastward orientation, as an extension of Manifest Destiny. Given the Midwest’s democratic associations with pioneers and the Jeffersonian farmer, the notion of the war as a replacement for the frontier was inescapably linked to the region’s unique cultural iconography. This essay considers prose narratives that explore wartime reciprocities running between the Midwest and Europe. The Midwest not only sent hundreds of thousands of men but also increased agricultural production and exportation. Moreover, the region’s democratic heritage was drawn on to bolster support for the war. Conversely, German immigrants experienced xenophobic attacks, bringing the tensions of the war to the home front. Meanwhile, Midwestern soldiers in France were repeatedly struck by the similarity the countryside bore to their native topographies. By registering the topographical familiarity of the New World – and frequently comparing the war with the activities of pioneers – Midwestern writers variously explore, critique, and reject the idea of the war as a replacement for the frontier, or as a fulfillment of the democratic values enshrined in the region’s pioneer and agrarian culture.
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