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Scott Russell Sanders' Position on Human Migration

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Scott Russell Sanders, American novelist, responds to an essay by author Salman Rushdie in his novel ‘Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World’. Rushdie maintains the perspective of the human race constantly migrating, rooting themselves in places rather than ideas, and praises these ideals. Sanders chooses to refute this, discussing the dangers of finding solace in ideas as opposed to places. His conflicting opinion to Rushdie may have been what prompted him to write this passage, but the topic they revolve around is more relevant than ever - Immigration. In recent decades, immigration has become universally easier, also leading it to be a much more widespread experience. However, immigration is not always a beneficial thing. Sanders argues that “people who root themselves in places are likelier to know and care for those places than are people who root themselves in ideas”, to the moving population of America. He adopts a variety of different strategies, such as examples in American history, using language following the American dream, and an environmentally focused cycle of cause and effect.

Saunders begins by playing with a cause and effect method, while placing a value on the state of the environment. He describes the outdoors and our surroundings, and explains how when one aspect of that disappears, we as a population relocate to another place where it is still present. “If we fish out a stream or wear out a field”, Sanders states,“ Off we go to a new stream, a fresh field”. Saunders is claiming that as we negatively impact the environment in one place, later deeming it to be unliveable, we simply seek out a new environment. Yet, instead of doing things differently than in the last location, we continue with our same ways, finding ourselves in an endless cycle, always leading to a different fresh field. As Sanders states in the final sentence of his introduction, “By settling in, we have a chance of making a durable home for ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our descendants”. Sanders is emphasizing his concern for the future of the environment in this sentence, and encouraging his audience to do the same, using comforting words such as “durable”, and “fellow”, when describing the way things could be if we (the audience) make an effort to settle in, and care for our surroundings.

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While continuing the undertone of environmental concern, Sanders explores the utilization of language and ideas circulating around the American Dream. The American dream is something his audience - Americans - can find familiar, and something that remains to be relatable even in the modern era. Although the concept of the American dream changes with our nation, certain ideals stick with our country to this day - specifically expansionism. Even the mention of the American dream will instill a sense of pride in the majority of Americans, grasping their attention and giving them something that is easily understood. Cliché American personas such as “sailors, explorers, cowboys, prospectors, speculators, backwoods ramblers, rainbow chasers, and vagabonds of every stripe”, are characters often thought to be pioneered by Americans since the beginning of our nation, and when listing these characters, Saunders is able to set the stage for what is to come in terms of this strategy. Sanders brings out the themes of “Our Promised Land” as well as expansionism overall, in our “nation of restless movers”. Sanders brings up the point that our nation has “dug the most canals, laid the most rails, built the most roads and airports of any nation”. He then contrasts this with the statement, “our sprawling system of interstate highways is crumbling”. By uplifting the sense of American pride through achievements, Saunders shows his audience that he understands where they are coming from, but is able to counter this by also showing that while the achievements are numerous, they are often lacking in quality. We seek bigger and better things constantly - always on the move, valuing quantity over quality, even in the places we choose to live in. These things all create the sense of Americans truly always being in motion, always seeking what is bigger and better, though Saunders wants to explain that just because something is bigger, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. Saunders wants to demonstrate that we as a nation are constantly growing and changing, raising up new developments, all without giving the earth itself time to catch up. This comes in the form of a wake up call to his audience, showing them that although moving may be what they want, it isn’t always what they need, or what is worth sacrificing at the stake of the wellbeing of their past surroundings.

Sanders then moves on to enforce his argument through various examples in American history. This is most prominently seen in the third paragraph, which is almost entirely composed of historical events such as The Dust Bowl, colonization of the Americas, and the expansion of the Spaniards into the New World. This convinces the reader that movement is not inherently good by explaining events surrounding migration that ended in varying degrees of catastrophe for the places involved. “Colonists brought slavery with them to North America”, is one example he gives of movement resulting in something undesireable. Another way to provide this evidence may be the dust bowl, stating “The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was caused not by drought but by the transfer onto the Great Plains of farming methods that were suitable to wetter regions”, which also shows how movement is, unlike what Rushdie believes, not necessarily inherently good. He explains how the Spaniards “devastated on Central and South America by imposing on this New World the religion, economics, and politics of the Old”. Old ways that have proved to cause only destruction in old places will only continue to do so in new ones. In terms of effectiveness, these specific quotations make it harder for an audience to ignore these pieces of history they studied for years in school, which the general population knows to be true. Examples like these that are based on a real and familiar event are more impactful and convincing than Sanders imposing his own opinions on the matter, and leaving the reader with little room to build and change their feelings based on his own.

Sanders argues that people who root themselves in places are likelier to know and care for those places than are people who root themselves in ideas to the adult population of America. He uses a multitude of different rhetorical strategies to enforce his large scale argument throughout the passage, speaking his ideas to the easily influenced “restless movers” in America, but also responding to Rushdie and his supporters. By using rhetorical choices such as examples in history, using language following the American dream, and description of the outdoors to enforce this argument, Sanders is able to enforce his argument of anti-expansionism.

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Scott Russell Sanders’ Position on Human Migration. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“Scott Russell Sanders’ Position on Human Migration.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Scott Russell Sanders’ Position on Human Migration. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
Scott Russell Sanders’ Position on Human Migration [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from:
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