The Development of American Identity through Different Aspects of Society and Culture

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America was still a colony of Britain and shared in its imperial identity. Development of this American identity was witnessed in various sectors of society. Through sports we see the American culture trying to define its leisure activities to drinking parlors where the society sought some recreation time and the literature through which the emerging American sought to shape his identity. These pillars of the American way of life greatly influenced its emergent identity in the 19th century and ultimately helped to create the American identity that we are familiar with today.

  1. How and why Americans continue to appropriate British customs and culture

After the war of independence between America and Britain, America was left as a new world. In its infancy, it did not have a cultural identity. However, as the former colonizers, Britain had influenced many aspects of American life. For example, horse racing was a sport of the aristocratic class in Britain. The elite of America however decided to adopt horse racing to bring a feeling of these royal life to the new republic. Also, writers of these times had to write their works following a European style or risk having no audience to read the works.

Therefore, in order to make its own culture, America had to base its new identity on something. The British culture and identity was used because of its familiarity with the American populace. Over time, American culture has slowly evolved. The culture is now more modern with a rich mix of various cultures and social classes. The American culture borrows heavily on the British culture, this is because of the past connection that the two cultures share. American culture being the child of the British culture, it occasionally borrows things from the British culture to make it even more divergent and rich.

  1. Democratic ideals seen in sport, drinking culture and literature

Taverns, sports arenas and books were all used extensively in the creation of the American culture. During the development of these three areas, democratic uses were found for them as well. For instance, with the tavern, people from all walks of life would meet together as a group and while taking their drinks, discuss politics and the current news. This then became strong points for the cultivation of democratic ideals in the minds of the people. These taverns were a meeting place for various classes of the society. Though it started off as a classless structure, soon certain taverns were only allowed certain classes and this bred class differences.

Mark Twain in his publication of the book, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, introduces a discussion on democracy and how it affects the American society. Using such a book, Twain is using literature to disseminate information on the ideals of democracy and what he sees as wrong in the society. Sport has not been a major driver of political ideals historically. But in the American case, a sport like horse racing was used by the elite of America to try and ape the aristocratic sports of the former colonizer. The elite in this case tried to adapt a sport towards their own means and through which as rich Americans, they might find prestige in.

  1. What were impacts of social class and ethnic institutions of America

Social class and ethnic institutions had a big role to play in shaping American culture and identity. Throughout American history, many races and ethnicities have made the journey to America to find a new home. While these varied cultures contributed to making the rich American culture, it did so with a cost. In the mid 1840's, there was a greater shift towards nativism. This was due to the high number of other nationalists that were moving into America. The locals felt threatened and so many were drawn into the ideals of nativism. This view can be observed later in the formation of some highly intolerant and violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan(KKK).

Social class differences can also be observed in later bars and hotels. With a growing high income population, the regular places of drink started becoming too base for the rich. Places of drinking for them changed from the traditional tavern to more refined stations. Some of these stations included the hotel bars which were of a new style that embodied refined drinking. Saloons on the other hand were drinking dens for the common man, these were violent and hardcore male dominated areas. They were for the lower class. Grog shops also appeared to cater for the working class and for the various gangs. These shops were basically groceries selling liquor and beer. There was a certain variation to them including places like shock house, Barrel House and concert salons. These shops mainly catered for the middle class in society.

  1. Did these topics represent a shift to a more modern American identity? How so?

In literature, there was a marked shift towards a more modern American identity. Authors no longer had to go to Europe to write or otherwise try to find the European style. There was the founding of the American literary style which was used in publishing. This development of the new literary style enabled the native American speakers to find a literary identity and refine it. The literary class developed the various works into a modern American style that continued on to modernize the American identity. The culture of drinking is also a significant aspect of the modern American identity. From the development of the saloons and pubs, a new way of socializing began in America.

These bars were a place for people to meet and exchange ideas and discuss issues. Therefore, such places were instrumental in shaping the modern American identity. Sports also contributed to the modernizing of the American identity. Though most games and sports had an initial connection to Britain, the games were not conducted strictly as they were in Britain. The sporting activities in America grew by itself and took on a life of it's own. A sport like horse racing in Britain was for the aristocratic class. In America on the other hand, the sport was not limited to any class as the horse was a common animal on any farm before the advent of the automobile. Such activities created a unique link the more modern American identity.

  1. Importance of leisure-playing games, drinking, reading- in American society and a national identity

Leisure is an important aspect of the American identity. Leisure activities, especially games and drinking, brought together Americans as a group. Taverns and places of drinking drew together people from all walks of life to a single place where they can meet, plan and organize their activities, Games and sporting activities like horse racing also brought together like minded people to discuss issues. Sailors, politicians, farmers and the common man all came together under one roof and shared information. All ethnic groups would meet at taverns and this made the flow of information smoother. Indeed drinking has entrenched itself so much into the American culture that it was common in some towns without halls to use such places as a meeting point.

These leisure activities therefore were important in constructing the American culture. The sports and literature of the American culture was first brought from Europe. In its infancy, this culture directly copies the European way of life and therefore could not be called American. But through time, these activities have been transformed and reformed into new vessels that are unique. This new concept is now what is known as the American culture. In the late 19th century, writers in America had to write in a European style for their work to be appreciated. It was not until writers like Mark Twain came unto the scene that a distinct American literature style was born.

  1. Which individuals stood apart as most strongly identifying a modernizing American identity?

Often times, Washington Irvin is referred to as the father of modern American literature. In his book Rip van Winkle, the author uses a European setting to tell the story of a sleeper awakening in the future. Though this story is of a European setting, the story is based in America and it tells of a society that has changed and has moved forward. Washington Irvin in the story tells the life of the American in those times. He tells of a story that starts as a sleeper colony and continues on to a period to technological advancement. He has therefore told quite well the story of the modernizing America as well as its challenges.

Another person who stood out in modernizing the American identity is Mark Twain. He was unlike the other authors of his time. During his times, it was usual for authors to totally identify with the European and leave out the American. Mark Twain was however different in that even when in Europe, he always embraced American eccentricities and always portrayed a picture of a charismatic American, Ernst Hemingway said of Mark, that "all modern American literature comes from one book of Mark Twain, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The book reveals the American myths for what they really are. The author in the book delves deep into the American culture and its myths and seeks to debunk them.

  1. Do any of these have connections to previously discussed topics? Is there links and similarities regarding American identity?

American identity did not come about on its own. Rather, it was built upon the identity of other countries and varied races. As such, American identity contains many similarities to other cultures. For example, sports such as horse racing were a preserve of the elite in the aristocratic British society. In the American society, the sport became a common event in the elitist class of the American society. This new society therefore shares much with its British parent. Even in works of literature, we see an initial connection to the European style whereby authors actively sought to associate with this style as opposed to developing their own.

The new American society is made up of several distinct cultural and racial elements. This clash of cultures provides a link between the new American identity and the link it shares to the individual cultures that make it up. It is from these association to other cultures that we find an emergence of the American identity. It is the contribution that these varied cultures brought into the American society that helped to make up the American identity as a whole.


The American identity developed over a long time. This identity is multi-cultural with varied ethnicities and people. This mix of cultures and traditions among the people of America lends it a unique identity. This identity did not develop overnight, rather it was a slow process that took many years to achieve. This identity gained prominence through various activities like sports, the drinking culture and even in literature. These advances makes the American identity a dominant force the world over with numerous people around the world willing to adopt it as their own.

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The Development of American Identity through Different Aspects of Society and Culture. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved April 17, 2024 , from

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