20+ Archetypal Americans

A passing reference in a book I'm reading got me thinking about American archetypes - not brands or companies, but characters.  If you had to pick people (real or fictional) who symbolize what America represents, who would they be? Who symbolize what we think we represent? Who symbolize what others in the world think we represent? 

I started asking friends for their inputs and got some fascinating answers.  Here's the list we've come up with so far.  Apparently - if you judge by this list - we're clever but folksy, greedy but generous, dutiful but not averse to breaking rules, glamorous/powerful but down-to-earth, reckless but reliable, powerful but humble, and definitely larger than life!
  1. George Washington.  Nobly gave up the opportunity to be king because he believed in democratic ideals.  Plus he was a farmer, which is as down to earth as you can get. (No pun intended)
  2. Ben Franklin.  Intelligent, funny, folksy, an autodidact, and just a little bit naughty.
  3. Davy Crocket.  An explorer who - according to the myth - combined courage, fortitude, and woodsmanship with a lust for adventure
  4. Paul Bunyan.  Bigger than life ... literally!
  5. Abraham Lincoln/Martin Luther King Jr.  God knows our country has made a lot of spiritual missteps, but we like to believe that - when push comes to shove - we'll spawn leaders able to guide us towards the right and honorable path 
  6. General Robert E. Lee.  Yes, he ended up on the losing side of the Civil War, but hard not to respect that he placed duty and honor over his own desires.
  7. Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn.  Practically our national icons, combining self-confidence with folksy charm and an endearing (or alarming, depending on your system of government) penchant for rule-breaking.
  8. Mark Twain.  Of all the folks on the list, probably best personifies what foreigners think of us - we're clever and possess a certain folksy charm, but we're also annoyingly prolific, pervasive, commercial, and self-satisfied 
  9. Thomas Edison/Steve Jobs. Ingenious, clever, and determined; plus, we like to think of ourselves as the technology leaders of the free world
  10. Franklin D. Roosevelt.  A man who made Americans proud of their ability to work hard and sacrifice for the common good.
  11. Eleanor Roosevelt.  She symbolizes intelligence, diplomacy, modesty and wit.
  12. The Hardy Boys.  They symbolize the boy-children we like to think we raise here in the U.S.: clever, multi-talented, self-sufficient and always up for adventure
  13. Jay Gatsby.  We'll throw everything away in search of our dreams.
  14. John Wayne (the characters he played in movies)/Boy Scouts.  They epitomize honor, chivalry, duty, determination, self-sacrifice, plus you can't imagine them passing an old lady without helping her cross the street
  15. Marilyn Monroe.  Could have chosen from a list of celebrities (Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis come to mind), but Marilyn represents the type: glamorous, sexy, largely invented by the media but we liked them even better when we embrace their flaws
  16. Amelia Earhart/Charles Lindbergh/Neil Armstrong.  Together, they symbolize our sense of reckless courage and our willingness to throw ourselves into danger in search of everlasting glory 
  17. General George Patton.  Highly educated, eccentric, irrascable, brilliant, courageous, and victorious in war.
  18. Aunt Bea.  She's nurturing, capable, loyal and yet quietly strong - a classic female American archetype if there ever was one.
  19. Oprah.  The epitome of the self-made man ... except, of course, that she's a woman.  She dominates entertainment the way we like to think we dominate the world: defining tastes, creating/manipulating markets, and amassing a huge personal fortune 
Who do you think needs to be added to the list?  Let me know!

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