When the above elements are put into a three part structural division we would have the elements under the "Beginning" division above in Act I and the elements under the "End" division above in Act III. In Act II, between Act I and Act III, there might be intermediate elements between the ones in contrast.
As we have shown, the linear movement of stories involves a contrast which is the basic ingredient of drama found in all stories. One example of this contrast is found throughout much of American literature in the theme of the contrast between technology and nature. This theme represents one of the major aspects of American mythology and place symbolism has played an important part in this mythology.
Within our American mythology, one observer notes that nature has been symbolized by the place of a garden symbolizing the pastoral myth while technology has been symbolized by the machine invading the garden. Cultural historian Leo Marx eloquently underlines this idea in The Machine In The Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America:
"The Pastoral idea has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination. The ruling motive of the good shepard, leading figure of the classic, Virgilian mode, was to withdraw from the great world and begin a new life in a fresh, green landscape. And now here was a virgin continent! Inevitably the European mind was dazzled by this prospect. With an unspoiled hemisphere in view it seemed that mankind actually might realize what had been thought a poetic fantasy. Soon the dream of a retreat to an oasis of harmony and joy was removed from its traditional literary context. It was embodied in various utopian schemes for making America the site of a new beginning for Western society."
This pastoral ideal has been a "cultural symbol" in America. By cultural symbol, Marx means, "an image that conveys a special meaning through feeling to a large number of those who share the culture."
The pastoral ideal has been incorporated in a powerful metaphor of contradiction or a way of ordering meaning and value that clarifies the American situation today. Marx elaborates:
"There can be little doubt that it (the pastoral ideal) affects the nation's taste in serious literature, reinforcing the legitimate respect enjoyed by such writers as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Frost. But on the lower plane of our collective fantasy life the power of this sentiment is even more obvious. The mass media cater to a mawkish taste for retreat into primitive or rural felicity exemplified by TV westerns and Norman Rockwell magazine covers."
Pastoralism was "generated by an urge to withdraw from civilization's growing power and complexity. What is attractive in pastoralism is the felicity represented by an image of a natural landscape, a terrain either unspoiled or, if cultivated rural. Movement toward such a symbolic landscape also may be understood as movement away from an 'artificial' world, a world identified with 'art,' using this word in its broadest sense to mean the disciplined habits of mind or arts developed by organized communities."
In other words, this impulse gives rise to a symbolic motion away from centers of civilization toward their opposite, nature, away from sophistication toward simplicity, or, to introduce the cardinal metaphor of the literary mode, away from the city toward the country. At first, this movement was a western movement away from the cities of Europe. Later the movement was away from the eastern cities of America and into the wild west.
The book The Great Gatsby demonstrates this contrast between the city and the country. The city was Manhattan one reached by going through the symbolic "wasteland" of T.S. Eliot in the valley of the ashes in the novel. The country was where Gatsby lived. But even beyond this, there was the contrast between the pastoral idea of America and what America had become, the contrast between the pastoral ideal of the past and the present inability to reach this ideal. F.Scott Fitzgerald speculates about this concept in the famous final paragraphs from The Great Gatsby:
"And as the moon rose higher and higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes - a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."
Fitzgerald gave the concept expression but the contrast was common to other American artists.
One of the historical symbols of pastoralism was of a sheperd and his sheep. Pastoralism celebrated the innocent life of sheperds usually from an idealized Golden Age of rustic innocence and idleness. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby makes an interesting symbolic bow to pastoralists when Nick visits New York City and says:
"We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn't have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner."
Here Fitzgerald symbolically locates this past place, symbolized by sheperds and symbolized by the concept of the garden in American literature, and places it against New York City. Probably the greatest juxtaposition possible.
But much of American literature is filled with the realization that this pastoral myth is coming to an end. Earlier in this book I quoted from the desert diaries of the naturalist John Van Dyke and his book The Desert. At the end The Desert, he realizes that he must leave the desert and return to civilization:
"Look out from the mountain's edge once more. A dusk is gathering on the desert's face, and over the eastern horizon the purple shadow of the world is reaching up to the sky. The light is fading out. Plain and mesa are blurring into unknown distances, and mountain-ranges are looming dimly into unknown heights. Warm drifts of lilac-blue are drawn like mists across the valleys; the yellow sands have drifted into pallid gray. The glory of the wilderness has gone down with the sun. Mystery - that haunting sense of the unknown - is all that remains. It is time that we should say good-night - perhaps a long good-night - to the desert."
It is the end of the pastoral myth for Van Dyke - a myth he believed in for the three years he spent in the Colorado Desert.
The realization of the end of this myth came in other ways for other artists. This ending of the pastoral myth of America finds a strong symbolic representation in a passage out of Nathaniel Hawthorne's notebooks. Here, there is a vivid symbolism of a technological object in the form of a steam engine invading the place of a garden - the pastoral garden of America which had aspects of a sacred place.
Leo Marx relates the event in The Machine in the Garden. On the morning of July 27, 1844, Nathaniel Hawthorne sat down in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, to await "such events as may happen." As Marx notes, his purpose "was chiefly literary...Though he had no reason to believe that anything memorable would happen, he sat there in solitude and silence and tried to record his every impression as precisely as possible."
Hawthorne begins by describing the setting, known in the neighborhood as "Sleepy Hollow":
" ... a shallow space scooped out among the woods, which surround it on all sides, it being pretty nearly circular, or oval, and two or three hundred yards - perhaps four or five hundred - in diameter. The present season, a thriving field of Indian corn, now occupies nearly half of the hollow; and it is like the lap of bounteous Nature, filled with bread stuff...Observe the pathway, it is strew over with little bits of dry twigs and decayed branches, and the sear and brown oak-leaves of last year that have been moistened by snow and rain, and whirled about by harsh and gentle winds, since their departed verdure."
Then, in the midst of his brooding upon the details of nature in his surrounded enclave, there is a dramatic contrast:
"But, hark! there is the whistle of the locomotive - the long shriek, harsh, above all other harshness, for the space of a mile cannot mollify it into harmony. It tells a story of busy men, citizens, from the hot street, who have come to spend a day in a country village, men of business; in short of all unquietness; and no wonder that it gives such a startling shriek, since it brings the noisy world into the midst of our slumberous peace."
Rising to leave the secluded little area soon after hearing the whistle of the locomotive, he notices a cloud moving across the sun. Many clouds now are scattered about the sky "like the shattered ruins of a dreamer's Utopia." His writing has taken a different tone after the intrusion of the locomotive.
Variants of this "Sleepy Hollow episode", notes Leo Marx, "have appeared everywhere in American writing since the 1840's. Some examples are Thoreau's Walden, Melville's Moby Dick, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Steinbeck's Grapes Of Wrath, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Faulkner's story "The Bear." Marx writes that indeed "it is difficult to think of a major American writer upon whom the image of the machine's sudden appearance in the landscape has not exercised its fascination." It was this sudden appearance of the machine which symbolized the ending of the pastoral dream, the dream of the natural world could be returned to and lived in by modern man, away from the influence of the cities and the great products of the cities like steam locomotives.
The Peter Weir film Witness offers a modern popular variation on this American fable. To make the greatest impact to the contrast between nature and city, the film mixes the brutality of a modern city with the peacefulness of the Amish religious sect. A young Amish boy visits New York City and sees a murder committed. He becomes a witness who needs to be protected in order to testify. He and his mother are put under police protection and a detective from the city goes to live with the two of them on their Amish farm to protect them before the trial. Gradually, the police detective begins to see the ways of the Amish and in the process falls in love with the mother of the boy.
Significantly, the film has chosen one of the few remaining vestiges of the "garden" concept in modern America. The place is a small Amish farm in Amish country and it is a place which has rejected modern technology to a much greater extent than even typical American farms. So the contrast is even greater. The mother of the boy represents this unspoiled garden concept of American pastoralism. The police detective from the big city symbolically represents the "machine in the garden." In the end, what the man from the city of modern America really falls in love with is the simple Amish country life or the old America.