The establishment of America as the country and the formation of its people as a unified nation took quite some time, as the new comers setting down in various states of the newly discovered continent were coming from different places of Europe and tended to form communities and group up mainly with the people from the same areas.
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As a result, the nation of America was basically non-existent, instead there was a number of independent communities with their own lifestyles and habits. “American Progress” is the painting created by John Gast in 1872. It depicts the process of unification and homogenization of the American nation through the technological progress, education and imperialistic movements expressed thought the well known Manifest Destiny.
“American Progress” by John Gast is a very famous work of art. Ever since it was first created it became a traditional symbol of the American desire to move forward, develop and succeed. Besides, today this painting can also be seen as one of the attributes that started the American national togetherness. The painting is often called an encyclopedia of the American culture and history. It truly contains various signs and images related to different eras and cultures significant for this country. The painting depicts many people.
A closer look at them allows the viewer realize that each of the groups of people represents different times. For example, there are several Native Americans, they are followed by a group of the first arrivers that studied the lands of America and explored them. After the explorers there come groups of farmers and settlers. The figure that stands out the most in the painting by John Gast is the woman. She is the very image of the American well known Manifest Destiny. All of the figures of the paintings move westwards. The western part of the composition is dark, it contains indigenous people that are running away from the woman representing progress.
Western side fits the traditional stereotype of being wild, it even has a wild bear and a deer as clear proofs of its untamed nature. Mythical West of the nineteenth century is shown as a scary and probably violent place that was in need of enlightenment. In reality the wildness of the Western parts of America was exaggerated. The westward movement served to unify the nation and create new people that were called Americans. Westward movement together with the Manifest Destiny brought togetherness, agreement and the idea of a whole nation to the country that before was inhabited by multiple separate communities.
The painting of John Gast is definitely a means of visual propaganda of the American excellence and specialness. Manifest Destiny was overall quite an ignorant idea that was focused on the fact that the movement of the American progress should not stop, but has to head outside of the country and bring light to other “wild” nations just like it does in the painting of John Gast. Manifest Destiny was employed to justify the American imperialist moods and its expansion, but at the same time it became a national idea that brought the separated nations of America closer turning them into a new large community with a national pride and self-identification, which was highly important for the creation of a strong and progressive state ready to compete with other powerful countries of the world.