John M. Nielsen


Emigrant, Human, Wilderness


In the spring of 1978, Arizona Quarterly published what

was to be the last of Sophus Keith Winther's scholarly

articles. Entitled, "The Emigrant Theme," this essay in many

ways was a summation of Winther's thoughts, not only regarding

the experience of Scandinavian-Americans as told in

literature, but more importantly of his reflections regarding

the whole of human experience. For him, emigration was the

great human story, stretching from the dawn of humankind

in the Olduvai Gorge to a foreboding present. It was the

story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness; it was the

myth of the American westward movement. For Winther

writing in 1978, however, emigration was no longer

possible; the physical and psychological opportunities

offered by the vision of a promised land across oceans and

beyond mountains were no more. Over-population,

environmental pollution, and the threat of nuclear holocaust

promised a global "ragnarok". The human journey was fast

approaching an end.