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VARIOUS TEXTS: THE USA - WHERE DOES THE WEST BEGIN?

I crossed into Texas. I've heard Americans debate where the West begins: Texans say the Brazos River; in St. Louis it's the Mississippi, and they built a very expensive "Gateway Arch" to prove it; Philadelphians say the Alleghenies; in Brooklyn it's the Hudson; and on Beacon Hill the backside of the Common. But, of course, the true West begins with the western state lines of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. It's a line, as close to straight as you could hope to find, that runs from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, fewer than a hundred miles from the geographical east-west division of the continental states, it lies close to the hundredth meridian, the twenty-inch rainfall line, and the two- thousand foot contour line - all of which various geographers recognize as demarcations between East and West. When you stand east of those states you're in the East; cross over and you're in the' West. It's simple and clear.

I'm an authority because my family lives two hundred feet from where this line passes through Kansas City. I've hit numerous backyard homeruns from the East into the West. Kansas City, Missouri, is the last Eastern city, and Kansas City, Kansas - the two divided only by hedges, a street, a piece of river - is the first Westem one.

The land west of this line used to be known as the Great American Desert, but only geographers use that term now as far as can tell. By "desert" they mean a high land (two thousand feet and up), commonly arid (less than twenty inches rainfall), with mountains, evergreen forests, prairie grasses, and even some sand. They don't mean trackless Saharan dunes and palmy oases.

The true West differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential, and awesome way: space. The vast openness changes the roads, towns, houses, farms, crops, machinery, politics, economics, and, naturally, ways of thinking. How could it do otherwise? Space west of the line is perceptible and often palpable, especially when it appears empty, and it's that apparent emptiness which makes matter look alone, exiled, and unconnected. Those spaces diminish man and reduce his blindness to the immensity of the universe; they push him toward a greater reliance on himself, and, at the same time, to a greater awareness of others and what they do. But, as the space diminishes man and his constructions in a material fashion, it also paradoxically - makes them more noticeable. Things show up out here. No one, not even the sojourner, escapes the expanses. You can't get away from them by rolling up the safety-glass and speeding through, because the terrible distances eat up speed. Even dawn takes nearly an hour just to cross Texas. Still, drivers race along; but when you get down to it, they are people uneasy about space.
words: 473

Source: BLUE HIGHWAYS by William Least Heat-Moon, BackBay Books, Boston, New York 1983, pp. 131-132

Assignments:
1. Why do so many Americans from different regions claim that their home country is where the West begins?

2. Where - according to the author - does the real West begin and what arguments does he bring forward?

3. What does the author mean by saying that "the vast openness changes..(people's) ways of thinking"?
Support your answer by concrete examples from your own knowledge of the USA.

4. "(Spaces) ...push him towards a greater reliance on himself ... and makes (him) more noticeable".
What does the author mean by these statements?


amazon.de Blue Highways: A Journey Into America
by
William Least Heat Moon
amazon.de






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