Bringing the Text to Life
Americans like to pride themselves on their "can-do" spirit. It was this conviction that helped a scruffy band of colonists defeat the great British army. It was this gritty determination that rode with countless tiny rattle-trap wagons full of families moving out to settle the vast wild spaces of this sprawling continent.
Immigrants from a hundred different countries seemed to catch that spirit the moment they set foot on shore. Indeed, it has often been first- or second-generation Americans that have embodied it the best. America's songwriter for the 20th century, Irving Berlin, caught and personified can-do-ness at its cockiest in his wild West musical Annie Get Your Gun. In it, sharpshooter Annie Oakley engaged in a one-upmanship boasting match with her competitor Buffalo Bill Cody, boldly singing "Everything you can do, I can do better; I can do everything better than you!"
There is another competition between adversaries, however, that demonstrates just how impossible some...