A Quilt of a Country Summary

A Quilt of a Country


A Quilt of a Country by Anna Quindlen is a thought-provoking essay that explores the concept of American multiculturalism and national identity in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks. Published on September 26, 2001, as part of her biweekly column in Newsweek, Quindlen reflects on the unification of the American populace against a common enemy, terrorism. Through the metaphor of a quilt, she eloquently depicts the diverse patchwork of different shapes, colors, and fabrics that make up the United States, emphasizing how America binds together people from all backgrounds and differences to form one beautiful nation.

Building on Idealistic Notions

Quindlen begins her essay by asserting that America is a nation founded on the notion that all individuals residing within its borders are equal constitutionally. However, she acknowledges that this idealistic vision does not always align with reality. Throughout its history, America has experienced numerous failures, including instances of bigotry, lynching, slavery, and the denial of rights to women and queer people. Despite these imperfections, Quindlen believes that in times of immense tragedy like 9/11, people will pause and reflect upon the importance of unity and equality.

Exploring Ethnic Divisions

The author delves into the concept of “prideful apartheid,” highlighting the existence of ethnic divisions within America. Contrary to what some historians claim, these divisions are not new, as Quindlen demonstrates through the example of her own parents, who hailed from Irish and Italian backgrounds. She suggests that in the future, the enmity between two ethnicities, such as Cambodians and Mexicans, will seem as quaint as the differences between Irish and Italians appear today. Quindlen draws upon examples from literature to illustrate that ethnic divisions have always been present in America’s history.

A Common Enemy

As the essay reaches its midpoint, Quindlen poses a series of rhetorical questions to ponder the significance of such a diverse, accommodating, and pluralistic country. She observes that other nations have crumbled along ethnic lines, while America, through the World Wars, the Cold War, and now 9/11, has repeatedly found unity against a common enemy. Despite fears of internal dissent following the Cold War, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, once again unified all Americans in their fight against terrorism. Quindlen quotes from the National Opinion Research Center, highlighting America’s unique ability to bring together refugees from all corners of the world, including people from different religions who peacefully coexist within its borders.

The Spirit of America

Quindlen praises America’s multiculturalism, emphasizing that the country does not assume a national character that isolates any particular community. Instead, she explores the factors that influence the American psyche. The author identifies two primary beliefs held by Americans: the spirit of Calvinism, which demands conquering difficult and nearly impossible challenges, and a commitment to egalitarianism.

Moving Beyond Tolerance

In the final paragraph of her essay, Quindlen challenges the use of the word “tolerance” to encapsulate American coexistence, deeming it insufficient. She argues that “tolerance” is too bland and fails to capture the unity that lies at the core of America’s identity. Similarly, she dismisses the word “pride” but settles on the term “patriotism” as a better descriptor. Quindlen suggests that true patriotism lies in taking pride in America’s ability to embrace its diversity and remain united despite differences. She predicts that the photos of those who perished in the World Trade Center attacks will serve as a testament to America’s plurality. Quindlen concludes her essay by reaffirming her admiration for America as a “mongrel nation,” celebrating its multiculturalism and the ability of its diverse population to thrive together.

About the Author

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen is an accomplished American journalist turned novelist, esteemed for her insightful commentary on various topics, including feminism, motherhood, and family life in the American context. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Quindlen’s parents were of Irish and Italian descent, lending her a unique perspective on multiculturalism and identity. Her exceptional talent earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her commentary. Quindlen has written nine novels, with one, One True Thing, adapted into a feature film starring Meryl Streep.


In conclusion, Anna Quindlen’s essay, A Quilt of a Country, offers a profound exploration of American multiculturalism and national identity. It celebrates the diversity and pluralism that define America, discussing how the country has managed to come together and remain united despite its imperfections and historical inequalities. Quindlen’s powerful metaphor of a quilt beautifully illustrates how the different pieces of America’s diverse population, though distinct, can create something beautiful and cohesive. She highlights the ability of Americans to unite against a common enemy, such as terrorism, and emphasizes the importance of patriotism and embracing diversity in defining the nation’s identity. Through her thought-provoking essay, Quindlen presents a compelling argument for the strength and resilience of a multicultural America.