The Sport of The Gods

Writing in 1787, Thomas Jefferson framed the ‘newness’ of America as a break not only from Europe, but from urban life as the dominant social model of the “Old” World. Anticipating Frederick Jackson Turner’s argument for the centrality of the frontier, Jefferson wrote: Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.  Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example.  It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers.  Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. 

This, the natural progress and consequence of the arts, has sometimes perhaps been retarded by accidental circumstances: but, generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any state to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good-enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption.  While we have land to labor then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff.  Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our work-shops remain in Europe.  It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles.  The loss by the transportation of commodities across the Atlantic will be made up in happiness and permanence of government.

  The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.  It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor.  A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution. (from Query XIX).This section of Jefferson’s only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia is one of the foundations of anti-urban bias in the United States, a nation that stigmatizes the “inner city” as a site of difference, danger, and disorder, while praising rural America as “the heartland.” In 500 – 750 words, please make a case for the relationship between Jefferson’s foundational ideas on the city and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods. Dunbar’s novel has often been described as the first urban-centered treatment of African-American life. Is Dunbar’s novel a product of American anti-urbanism? Does it resist the national bias against cities? Develop a formal thesis, using textual evidence from Dunbar’s novel to support your position. The core of your response will include a close reading of The Sport of the Gods, with the Jefferson quote providing context for thinking about anti-urban sentiment in the United States. No outside research, save attentive reading of the novel, is required to complete this question. Link for Notes: https://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/jefferson/jefferson.html

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