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Hu Yuan Soo

American Culture

Final paper

Monday, August 12, 2010

An Individual’s Definition of Freedom

Throughout American history, we have witnessed a reoccurring movement that has constructively defined what it means to be an American today. That movement is the struggle to define what freedom means to the American individual. In his book, “The Story of American Freedom”, Eric Foner takes us through the evolution of the four major definitions of freedom. He starts with: if you own property you are free, which then evolved to: if you own yourself you are free, which roughly after fifty years evolved to: if you are a contracting individual, you are free, which later evolved to: if you are a consumer, you are free. Every stage of its development involved different groups of agents of social change from industrial tycoons, to presidents, to artists like Igor Stravinsky – people that took the initiative to reinterpret the definition of freedom. However, Eric Foner argues that for the first time in American history, the responsibility assumed by these agents shifted to teenagers and young adults like Melba Patillo Beals and Tim O’Brien. The young “became active agents of social change”. In accordance to Foner’s definition of “active”, we see that Beals assumes the more active role whereas O’Brien assumes the more reactive role towards inspiring change. Why both authors at the time insist that they lacked choices after making important ones during the 1960s is shown through the contexts Foner provides throughout Chapter 12. Ultimately, both authors were left with little choice but to accept the role as agents of social change amidst the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, placing them in a position to redefine what freedom meant to them individually.

Foner provides three main contexts that explain why Beals at the time in her book “Warriors Don’t Cry” felt like she did not have many choices. The first context that can be found in Beals’ book is the...