The Struggle of Irresistible Attractions


The irresistible attraction Turner refers to in “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” is the vast free land available for possession to all white immigrants, settlers and pioneers. The land, the resources, the thrill to explore, and the experience to own was a call for riches, self-proclamation, freedom and the establishment of a good life. The new frontier was the initiation of the American dream. As per W.E.B Du Bois, his irresistible attractions were impossible and unreachable. They were all around him and all black folks: education, land, freedom, liberty, mobility and family. The irresistible attractions for whites were made resistible for black men. These two different attractions, irresistible and resistible, commingled and portrayed two different worlds for two different races. Du Bois’ irresistible attraction was a constitutional right that all men are created equal, with liberty and pursuit of happiness. He believed in equal rights and supported the Founding Fathers principles.

The white and black history of America is literally black and white. When Turner writes “American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development” (P186). He reinforces the clear objectives and goals for all white men, farmers, traders, settlers or pioneers. But, it does not support that all men were created equal. In the other hand, W.E.B. Du Bois writes “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,–the longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self” (P3). White men had the freedom to attain everything and anything as the nation expanded to the Pacific. Black men were subjugated, controlled, exploited, abused and denied their equal rights. There were two different histories for two different men in the definition of the American identity.

The two deniable and undeniable attractions are defined clearly by Turner and Du Bois. The opportunity to move from the east coast  to new territory in the west and finally the Pacific coast gave whites the individualism to do or undo, to move or settle and to explore or not to explore. These choices created the path to the definition of American identity as well. “All people show development. We are changing rapidly, we cannot limit ourselves to one coast, and we cannot depend in the evolution of institutions in one small space” (P186).  Expanding to and exploring the West was the destiny and the new frontier. American individualism was the challenge to conquer, to find reaches and to settle the new land. For blacks, the challenge was different. It was radical.  It was equality and the attraction written in the Constitution. Black American individualism was seen from a double consciousness, seeing oneself from someone else’s perspective and their own black selves. “Born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world” (P3). Du Bois stood his ground and believed in his rights of the Constitution. “He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism”P3. Did Du Bois mean that even if he bleached his soul was to have the irresistible attractions whites had invading the west? The question is debatable, but I like to assume he meant it because he believed in the same rights as whites; he believed that black men were capable and equal. He trusted the Founding Fathers that all men were created equal. “He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American” (P3). “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins” (P3). Peace and freedom are the irresistible attractions for black men and yet taken for granted by white men. “The freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land” (P5). The new Americans expanding through new frontiers could continue their exploration or invasion of the west but yet they could not find freedom or equality for all men.

In the journey of the frontiers, Turner states, “Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe a steady growth of the independence on American lines.”(P189). Turner defines the beginning of new independent movement for the new Americans.  Tuner confirms how free land in the West created the American identity. “The ‘West” as self-conscious section began to evolve” (P192). For Du Bois, “He felt his poverty, without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings” (P6). His American identity was not materialistic but rather of principle, “He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American” (P3). In addition to the discrimination, the abuse and his self-proclaimed double consciousness, blacks had no competition. They had no chance to improve their lives, to help create and build America.  If they did aid the construction of the nation, it was through forced labor and exploitation and through the fight for equal rights.

The irresistible or resistible attractions are easy to distinguish. One is available and the other is not. In identifying and defining American identity from two writers, both had different and unique attractions and are different people that can be very complicated and hard to describe or compare. But it is the unique complicated experiences of whites and blacks that gives Americanism an identity.  White new American had all the opportunities of equal rights, liberty and pursuit of happiness and black Americans had no opportunities. These two differences of equality provided a more resilient definition of what is to be an American and that is that the color of skin has no differences in equality as all men are created equal.