Ronald Takaki's Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America

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Ronald Takaki's Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America After America declared its independence from British rule, the founding fathers faced a conundrum: How to build and maintain a successful republican government that was ultimately dependent upon the passions and character of its people. Their solution was to propose the construction of what historians have called "iron cages," which were ideological devices intended to deter the corruption and folly that might consume a free people, and instead promoterational and virtuous American citizens. Ronald Takaki expands upon this concept in his historical analysis, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America, explaining that these constructs functioned specifically to separate the white man from blacks and Native Americans, who were believed to be devoid of the civility required to build a democratic nation. As patriot leaders attempted to resolve the exclusiveness of American identity to Anglo-Saxon peoples, rhetoric and reality merged to form ideology: In a land where "all men are created equal," race was constructed as a justification for why all men would not be treated equal. Takaki's book illustrates how literature came to play a vital role in the creation and reification of these racial ideologies. He states that, "What white men in power thought and did mightily affected what everyone thought and did." Americans viewed the founding fathers as interpreters of both law and society. These same men, whom Takaki names "culture makers," not only shouldered the task of explaining society, but were also instrumental in its conception. Takaki explainsthat their ideas were disseminated, and American mores were subsequently shaped through writing. Hi... ... middle of paper ... ... finds America imprisoned behind a fourth "iron cage," that which acts as an amalgamation of the republican, the corporate and the demonic. He explains that, "Like the republicans of the American Revolution, we continue to insist on our right of and capacity for being self-governing individuals. But we find ourselves again under the rule of a king - an authority exterior to the self. This time, however, we cannot as easily identify the king and declare our independence." Despite the prejudice, hate and violence that seem to be so deeply entrenched in America's multiracial culture and history of imperialism, Takaki does offer us hope. Just as literature has the power to construct racial systems, so it also has the power to refute and transcend them… The pen is in our hands. Works Consulted: Takaki, Ronald. Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America

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