What Symbolizes America?

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It’s funny how the same word can have such very different meanings to people throughout history. This is especially true for the word ‘America’. For many, America evokes a sense of pride, patriotism, and work ethic. For others, America represent unknown or uncertainty. In her keyword essay “America”, Kirsten Silva Gruesz poses the questions, “Who gets to define what “America” means? What institutions support or undermine a particular definition? Under what historical conditions does one group’s definition have more or less power than another’s?”
For the American Girl doll, Kirsten, America was a huge land of possibility and promise, but also heartache and hardship. Janet Shaw explains these emotions in her book, Meet Kirsten. Shaw writes about Kirsten’s development of making America her new home. A definite moment of this can be seen during one of Kirsten’s first moments in her new home. When Kirsten arrived at her new family farm, she changes into a blue dress borrowed from her cousin. This was a stepping point for Kirsten, as seen in the following quote, “Mama took Kirsten’s hand and turned her around for a good look. ‘Why, don’t you recognize Kirsten Larson, my American daughter?’” For Kirsten’s family, wearing this dress symbolizes becoming American.
Kirsten’s story shows great contrast to American culture today. Recently, the Miss Universe pageant was held, where each country wears a national costume. In 2017, Miss USA, DeShauna Barner, wore a metallic two-piece costume with a shield, elaborate headpiece, and knee high boots. The announcers compare her to superheroes such as Capitan America and Wonder Women. America is represented as something much different in 2017.
In Meet Kirsten, the idea of “America” is represented as new possibilities and a fresh start, while in 2017’s Miss Universe Pageant, “America” represents the strength of women in a superhero role. Both of these interpretations are expressed through clothing, but they each convey their own distinctive meanings.

3 thoughts on “What Symbolizes America?”

  1. It is interesting to see the distinction you show between what clothing makes a girl “american” in Kirsten’s time period and now, and how the clothing choices represent a different part of “girlhood.” It is crazy to think that we follow patterns of clothing that represent the time period that we are living in, which has been true throughout all of America’s history. Clothing is a good representation of what society is like in that period.

  2. This is a great topic when trying to uncover the meanings of America. Appearance and clothing can lead to people drawing a lot of conclusions. In particular, there are some countries that have very defined clothing styles, to the extent in which you could tell where they are from even if they are away from their country. So when it comes down to what represents America, that’s a tricky question. America has been known as kind of a melting pot having people from all different countries and continents. With that being said, I’m not exactly sure what kind of clothing would be representative of “America.” However, I do like how Miss USA was seen as a strong, superhero, because I think that as a nation we are starting to become more aware of the gender inequalities of today’s day and age.

  3. Sarah your post brought up so many important points in regards to the term America. America does has many definitions, but your ability to point out the evolution of the term America is what I agree with the most. The recent Miss Universe pageant was a great example of this evolution because of how extreme the definitions differ compared to the texts we have read in class thus far. The definition of America depends on who you are which is why I believe everyone should be able to define America in their own way.

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