Exodus as the Underlying Theme of the American Story

Glenn Arbery examines great American writers and thinkers and their use the Exodus story to tell the American story.

When Martin Luther King, just before his death, said “He’s allowed me to go up to the mount. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land,” he was invoking the Exodus story for black Americans. But the story already informs the whole Western tradition. Dante explains the nature of the Divine Comedy by citing Psalm 114, which begins, “When Israel came out of Egypt.” The Puritans interpreted their own endeavors in terms of Exodus, starting with John Winthrop on the Arbella, and the greatest writers of American literature, including Melville, Twain, and Faulkner, consistently use the theme. 

Glenn Arbery

Senior Editor, People Newspapers and Adjunct Professor at University of Dallas

After finishing his degree at the University of Dallas, Glenn Arbery taught literature at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and Thomas More College in New Hampshire. In 1997, he returned to Dallas to become director of the Teachers Academy at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. For seven years there, he taught graduate courses and directed the Summer Institute for Teachers, an intensive graduate course in classic texts of the Western tradition. His Book "Why Literature Matters" appeared in 2001 from ISI Books. For the Dallas Institute Press, he edited "The Tragic Abyss," the third volume in the series on literary genre under the general editorship of Louise Cowan. In 2003, he became a senior editor with People Newspapers and a contributing editor of D Magazine, where he has won state, regional, and national awards for his writing. He is currently editing a collection of essays by the Southern critics John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Donald Davidson.

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