Wonder and Awe

The World's Colombian Exposition

By Adam Kanyock


When Europeans first set foot in America, they saw before them a vast land filled with mystery and wonder. It contained opportunity and promise, but it also contained power and danger. Throughout the history of America, we have always loved the sense of awe that accompanies such sights as the untouched wilderness or the World’s Columbian Exposition. This is one of the driving forces that has moved America forward from one frontier to the next, continuing to make discoveries, each more incredible than the last.


People are forever seeking the sense of exploration and wonder that goes with something awe-inspiring such as the discovery of a new, untamed land, and people will go to great lengths to recreate such a feeling, even if it is only for a fleeting time, such as the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The Great Gatsby

In the world renowned book The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald weaves a tantalizing tapestry of a world of wealth, romance, and obsession. The people who attend the extravagant parties of The Great Gatsby seem completely and utterly addicted to the thrill that the party provides. There is a sense that the parties break from the normality of life. It provides an adrenaline rush that people crave.

Discovery in Gatsby

In the final chapter of Gatsby the narrator writes “the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh green breast of the new world” whose trees “had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams” and inspired “an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder”. The author expertly depicts the feelings of wonder and awe that come with the discovery of something so vast and mysterious. In this quote, the author talks of the ancient human instinct to discover and explore. This instinct has led people to search ceaselessly for new and more wonderful things in life.

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The World's Colombian Exposition

During the late 1800s, a wave of World's Fairs swept across the globe. In 1893, Chicago, Illinois hosted the World's Colombian Exposition. The massive fair sported many great wonders of its time. Fair goers were able to see incredible sights along the Midway Plaisance and ride the gigantic Ferris Wheel, which was originally created to compete with the spectacular Eiffel Tower from the Parisian World's Fair. The so-called 'white city' of the fair is an excellent example of people searching to replicate the feelings of wonder for their entertainment. Cultures from across the world contributed incredible, if not always accurate exhibits. One person at the fair described it as "crowned with flags, running the gamut of color, but above the splendor of imperial banners the starry folds of 'Old Glory' rose and fell, dearer to every patriotic eye than all the rest". (Gumery) The speakers manner clearly indicates his sense of awe at the 'splendor' of the fair. Writer Hamlin Garland was quite taken with the fair. "Sell the cook stove if necessary and come. You must see this fair." ( World' Fair (1878-1899) He wrote to his parents. Throughout the fair, it attracted over 27 million visitors, which shows the draw that the fantastic sights had on the average people who went to see the fair.


The quote from The Great Gatsby and the Chicago World's Fair are both examples of humanity's efforts to satisfy the desire to see new and incredible things. The fair itself was not intended to last very long. In a recent work, Timothy Spears said, " Most of the exposition's buildings were made of staff, a papier-mâché-like substance that was plastered over chicken-coop wire and wooden frames to give the structures the appearance of solidity and permanence." However, the echoes of the white city on the lake are still present even today in the Museum of Science and Industry, which continues the its efforts to enlighten and awe its visitors. Keith Gumery has said that the fair made Chicago seem to be " a gateway for Chicago and America to bridge the gap between the Old World and the New and to position itself at the center of the modern order of things." This is very similar to the feelings that the Europeans first seeing America felt. They felt a grand sense of wonder and inspiration. The same sense that has driven and always shall continue to drive the human race.

Works Cited

"The Ferris wheel. On the Midway Plaisance of the Worlds Columbian Exposition, 1893." American History Through Literature 1870-1920. Ed. Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Gumery, Keith. "World's Columbian Exposition." American History Through Literature 1870-1920. Ed. Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 1214-1218. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Harlow, Alvin F. "Ferris Wheel." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 355. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Spears, Timothy. "Chicago." Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History. Ed. Mary Kupiec Cayton and Peter W. Williams. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. Student Resources in Context. Web. 8 Jan. 2014.

"View of the Great Columbian Exposition at Chicago." Westward Expansion. Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Media, 2010. American Journey. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

World's Columbian Exposition Opens, May, 1893-October, 1893." DISCovering U.S. History. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

"World' Fair (1878-1899)." American Eras. Detroit: Gale, 1997. Student Resources in Context. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.