First Contact




Final Essay for the Fall Term


Jeremiah Johnson is a story about a man who tires of “civilization” and who seeks to escape by going forth into the wilderness. Nevertheless, along the way he encounters a variety of individuals who have a profound influence on his life. In the end, by seeking to leave the civilized world behind, he ultimately finds himself.

For your final assignment, pick one of the following questions and write a 1,000 word, five-paragraph essay in the “Leave a Reply” section below. Paper are due by the date the instructor assigns in class.


1) In literature and film, three themes are often explored.  Discuss how these themes are dealt with in the film with specific reference to the characters and action in the film.

i) Man versus Man

ii) Man versus Nature

iii) Man versus himself


2) How is the concept of “rugged individualism” manifested in the film? Can the main character really “stand on his own” or does he depend upon the companionship and help of others? Explain.


3) On his journey, Johnson encounters several groups of native peoples and thus comes into contact with cultures that are vastly different from his own. What challenges does Johnson face in attempting to understand and deal with these cultures, and is he ultimately successful? Explain.


4) How would you have felt about the arrival of the mountain men and the settlers if you were a Native American in those days? How might you have dealt with a new civilization encroaching on your lands? Would it have been possible for the two cultures — American and Indian — to have lived peacefully with one another or was the meeting always doomed to conflict and failure? Explain.


 5) In what ways are this uniquely American concept of independence and individualism different from traditional Japanese values? How well do you think the idea of “rugged individualism” would be accepted in Japanese society? What difficulties would such a strongly independent thinker face in your culture?


  • MPW-86797


Jeremiah Johnson – Plot Summary

In the early 1800s, young, adventurous Jeremiah Johnson desires to live in the mountains of Utah. Hoping to live by trapping big game, Jeremiah struggles to master mountain life, battling freezing temperatures and a challenging terrain.

One day, as he attempts to catch fish with his bare hands, Jeremiah turns to see an Indian watching him contemptuously. Although Jeremiah fears for his life, the Indian leaves silently. Soon after, he comes across the frozen corpse of Hatchet Jack, who has left a will pinned to his jacket bequeathing his first-class rifle to its next finder. Despite the rifle’s superior aim and accuracy, Jeremiah still labors to survive.

One day, a man approaches him with his gun drawn. Introducing himself as Chris “Bear Claw” Lapp, the grizzled older man complains that Jeremiah is ruining his bear hunt by moving through the woods too loudly. Inviting Jeremiah to his cabin for food, Bear Claw traps him inside with a grizzly to test the younger man’s mettle. Impressed with his abilities, Bear Claw allows him to share his food and shelter, and over the next weeks teaches Jeremiah invaluable survival skills.

One day, Jeremiah uses Bear Claw’s coaching to kill an elk. While they are returning home through Crow Indian territory, they are stopped by tribe members led by Paints His Shirt Red, whom Bear Claw identifies as a mighty warrior. Despite the fact that Bear Claw speaks the Crow language, the Indians are threatening until Jeremiah offers the freshly killed elk, earning Paints His Shirt Red’s grudging respect. Soon after, Jeremiah prepares to go out on his own, bidding goodbye to an unsentimental Bear Claw.



Over the next months, he trades with Paints His Shirt Red and other tribes. Along his wanderings, he comes across a homestead where three sons lay dead in the field, recently killed by Indians. The mother, driven insane by grief, draws her rifle upon spotting him, but he calms her and helps to bury the boys. Returning to the cabin hours later, Jeremiah finds another young son alive, struck mute from the horrors he has witnessed. That night, as the mother screams in agony by the graves, Jeremiah tends to the boy and cooks them dinner. The next morning when he offers to take the pair to the ferry, the mother refuses to leave but insists that he take the boy with him. Although Jeremiah is loath to take him, he cannot leave the child behind, and so travels on with him, naming him Caleb.

One day soon after, they spot a man buried up to his neck in the sandy dunes. The voluble man introduces himself as trapper Del Gue, who has shaved his head to save himself from scalping. Eager to retrieve his stolen horse and gun from the Blackfoot Indians who attacked him, Del Gue asks Jeremiah to help him, and they soon track the Indians to their camp. Unwilling to fight them, Jeremiah insists they wait until the men are asleep. They creep into the camp at night, but upon waking one man, Del Gue shoots all three and steals their collection of scalps. Furious, Jeremiah returns to Caleb, who is silently weeping in fear for Jeremiah’s life.



The next day, another band of Indians surround them, but although Jeremiah and Caleb are fearful, they are peaceful Flatheads who have heard of the murder of the Blackfeet and assume Jeremiah is a powerful warrior. They are welcomed to the tribe by the chief, Two-Tongues Lebeaux, who is Christian and French-speaking. During their conference, Jeremiah misguidedly offers the Blackfeet horses and scalps, not realizing that now the chief is honor-bound to offer an ever better gift in return. When the chief gives Jeremiah his daughter, Swan, Del Gue informs the trapper that he must marry the girl or insult the tribe. Now saddled with a wife and child, neither of whom can communicate with him, Jeremiah is annoyed, but cares for the pair as they travel on together uneasily.



It takes many days for Jeremiah and Swan, a devout Christian, to trust each other, but she is impressed by his ability to provide for them. While hunting, he spots an ideal site to build a house, and as they work together to erect a log cabin, the three grow into a close and loving family. Months later, a cavalry patrol appears, led by Lt. Mulvey and Reverend Lundquist, who are trying to rescue a homesteading wagon train that has broken down in the mountains, stranding the families. Mulvey asks Jeremiah to lead them through the mountains, and although Jeremiah is reluctant to leave Swan and Caleb, the reverend sanctimoniously induces him to help save the settlers. When the group comes upon a Crow burial ground at the pass, Jeremiah informs them they must bypass the burial ground and head east to the next pass, despite the time this will add to their trip. While the reverend sneers that Jeremiah cares more about the “savages” than the settlers, the lieutenant, knowing that the delay will imperil the settlers, determines to go on without Jeremiah’s help, forcing Jeremiah, who realizes Mulvey cannot survive without his leadership, to go along. As soon as they spot the wagons, however, Jeremiah turns back. Returning through the burial ground, he senses a disturbance and races home to find Swan and Caleb brutally murdered by vengeful Crow. Sick with grief, Jeremiah covers the bodies and burns the cabin down. For months he wanders aimlessly, killing any Crow he catches sight of, and in response the Crow determine to kill him, attacking continuously, one at a time.

One day, he meets up with Del Gue, and that night when Jeremiah is once again attacked, the other trapper suggests that he leave the mountain. Now a true mountain man, Jeremiah refuses. Later, he once again comes upon Caleb’s mother’s house, and finds her dead and settlers inhabiting the cabin. They show him a monument the Crow have erected to Jeremiah on the property, and although Jeremiah assumes it is a grave, the father informs him it is more of a testament to his might. He spends years alone, scrabbling for existence and moving farther and farther up the mountain to escape the Crow. One day, Bear Claw finds him and greets him as if no time has passed. Realizing Jeremiah is lost and lonely, Bear Claw speaks to him gently and wishes him well. Soon after, Jeremiah meets Paints His Shirt Red. The two foes face each other, but soon the Indian raises his hand in a gesture of peace and respect. Jeremiah silently returns the salute.



from http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/23020/Jeremiah-Johnson/full-synopsis.html





The Rugged Individual

A particularly American concept is known as “rugged individualism,” first used to refer to economic independence and non-reliance on government by President Herbert Hoover. The idea comes from the notion that Americans should make their own way in the world like the settlers and cowboys of the American West, and that one should not rely on anybody but oneself for assistance.


“Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses “the moral worth of the idividual”. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing external interference upon one’s own interests by society or institutions such as the government.”



The idea that “ a man (or woman) should stand on his (or her) own two feet” is not unique to Americans, but seems to be felt more strongly among Americans than in other countries where government participation in people’s lives is taken for granted and accepted as natural.


Prepare for the next class by writing your thoughts on this issue (minimum 250 words) in the Leave a Reply section below, considering the following DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:


What examples of “rugged individualism” can you think of in American society – economics, social, philosophical, and so on?


What do you think is the historical or philosophical basis for this idea?


What are the advantages for a society where individualism is a strong social value? What are the disadvantages?


How deeply do Japanese people believe in this idea? How well does an emphasis on the individual fit in with Japanese society?


Has Japan embraced this idea yet? If so, how? If not, what do you think prevents this idea from being accepted?


Is it the government’s obligation to support its citizens, or should the role of government be limited?


What other social, religious, or other institutions either complement or detract from the idea of the “rugged individual”?


Are people these days in either America or Japan become too “self-centered”? What effect would such a situation have on society?


A famous poem by John Donne asserts that “no man is an island.” (see http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/no-man-is-an-island/ ). How true would you say this is? What did Donne mean by this, and how do you think such a view affects the lives of people in a society?


Would you agree or disagree with the famous quote by the fictional “Mr. Spock” from the science fiction movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when, in an act of self-sacrifice, he told his friend and Captain James T. Kirk that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”? Explain.




photo by Tony Del Vecchio

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

(sonnet by Emma Lazarus (184987), written in 1883 and, in 1903, engraved on a bronze plaque inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty)


The American “Melting Pot”


America’s history is one of immigration. Unlike many other countries around the world, America is a country made up of people from numerous backgrounds and ethnicities. The promise of freedom and opportunity as envisioned in Emma Lazarus’ famous sonnet has drawn millions of people from all corners of the Earth to the country in hopes of a brighter future.

Sebastiano Galella (Great-grandfather of Tony Del Vecchio), who came to America from San Fele, Italy, around 1890 through the immigration center at Ellis Island, Port of New York

Read the following article by the BBC about the so-called American “Melting Pot” and prepare answers to the questions that follow:


PDF File here:

BBC NEWS | Americas | ‘Melting pot’ America


Prepare for the next class by writing your thoughts on this issue (minimum 250 words) in the Leave a Reply section below, considering the following DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

• What is meant by the American “melting pot”?

• Which do you think describes America better — a melting pot, a tossed salad, or a tomato soup” and why?

• What advantages does a multicultural society have or a homogeneous one? What are the disadvantages?

• How does the election (and re-election) of Barack Obama reflect American society as a whole?

• Should people in a multicultural society retain their original cultural identity or try to assimilate into that society as quickly as possible?

• Are all ethnic minorities able to become fully integrated into American society? If not, what is preventing them from doing so?

• What ethnic group does Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington say poses a “threat to American identity?” What does he mean by that? Is America heading for, or are we already experiencing, the kind of “clash of civilizations” that Huntington described in his provocative thesis?


PDF file here:

Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations | HistoryOrb.com

• In a country where people come from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, what kinds of “glue” do you think holds the society together?

How many generations do you think it would normally take a family from a foreign country to fully assimilate into a new culture? What do you think might delay such an assimilation?

• Discuss the significance of Emma Lazarus’ poem. What does this say about America? Has America kept the promise she described to its many immigrants?




A Homogeneous Japan?


(Continued — see Week 19 for details)



A Homogeneous Japan?


A heterogeneous country is one that is very diverse ethnically and culturally, like the United States. A homogeneous country is not diverse and its population has similar roots, language, customs, etc. Japan is often described as a homogeneous country.


Watch the following short video clips by Harvard University professors Theodore Bestor and Helen Hardacre:













Prepare for the next class by writing your thoughts on this issue (300 ~ 400 words) in the Leave a Reply section below, considering the following DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

How accurate do you think Bestor and Hardacre’s descriptions of Japanese society are?


Is Japan really a “homogeneous” society or is it more diverse than most people believe? How unique is it really?


What does Bestor mean when he says that the way societal institutions are combined is different in Japan as opposed to other countries?


Is Bestor accurate in his assertion that wealth disparities are not as great in Japan than in America, for example? What would account for this?


Does ethnic homogeneity make for a homogeneous society, or are there other factors at work?


To what extent do ethnic minorities like the Ainu and the Korean Japanese population — in Japanese sometimes called zai-nichi kankokujin – exert influence on Japanese culture?


Why is it that ethnic Koreans in Japan have a hard time assimilating into Japanese society? Are they, as Hardacre asserts, “shut out” or excluded from full participation in Japanese society?


How important are hierarchical relations in Japan with respect to how people interact with each other?


To what degree do concepts of “in-groups” and “out-groups” influence Japanese society?


How does the concept of “Ie” or family exert influence on people outside or across a boundary to people who are not part of that social group?


Why is the idea of consensus so important in Japan? Do you think this brings about the kind of harmony Bestor mentions? How well is conflict within groups managed in Japan as opposed to how it is managed in other countries like America?

PDF files of the above lectures can be downloaded here:

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (1)

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (2)

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (3)

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (4)

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (5)

Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Contemporary Japan_ Japanese Society (6)