English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation examines the historical origins of the ideology of Manifest Destiny and the effects of its transmission into American literature and film. I argue that though eruptions of Manifest Destiny repeat the idea of American exceptionalism, the semi-autonomous nature of the work of art works against the grain of these eruptions to show they are also symptomatic of the inability of the American State to reconcile the desire to be both a virtuous republic and a global empire. I begin with an analysis of the embedded notion of exceptionalism in John Winthrops A Model of Christian Charity and follow the trace of that same notion in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in order to establish an historical lineage of America's exceptionalist narrative. I then argue that the ideas of exceptionalism and the divine mission of the American State become compressed into the concept of Manifest Destiny and, through the discursive acts of John Louis O'Sullivan and the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, American cultural production repeats the discourse of Manifest Destiny. A list of the authors that appeared in the Democratic Review virtually defines American Romanticism and under O'Sullivan's editorial control the Democratic Review directly allied those authors with his politico-literary vision, which was informed by his belief that America was exceptional. I demonstrate how a novel like Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a nodal point where an American exceptionalist discourse is transmitted into film vis-à-vis John Huston's 1956 release of the filmic version of Moby Dick. Through a consideration of Rio Bravo (1959), and Lone Star (1998), my final chapter tracks eruptions of Manifest Destiny in the American Western film in order to show how changing formulations of American Exceptionalism gain traction in their time periods precisely because of the malleability of the exceptionalist narrative.'

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Torres, Hector A.

Second Advisor

Scharnhorst, Gary

First Committee Member (Chair)

Márquez, Antonio

Second Committee Member

Alemán, Jesse

Third Committee Member

Lewis, Jon




Manifest destiny in literature, Manifest destiny in motion pictures, Exceptionalism--United States--History

Document Type


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