ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
"'A Commanding View':
Vision and the Problem of Nationality in Fuller's Summer on the Lakes"
In Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, Margaret Fuller uses dramatic visual moments to explore her ambivalence about national identity. Her accounts of the unfamiliar landscape of the West at times reflect a desire for vision unmediated by social and cultural frames, particularly nationality. Yet at other moments in her narrative Fuller hopefully imagines a collective identity emerging through visual encounters with the American landscape. Art historians have explained the enormous popularity of landscape painting in the mid-nineteenth-century United States in terms of the idealized landscape's function as national icon, uniting viewers in the face of increasing sectional tension. In Summer on the Lakes, Fuller clearly participates in this discourse; she complicates it, however, not only by expressing a divided outlook on the effects of national identity on perception, but by using visual moments--her depictions of Native Americans cowed by the gaze of white settlers, for example--to critique American nationalism.