J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur Essay
The genre of essays dates back in its popularity to the first years of American colonies. Already then, skillful writers, mostly European journalists, started to track down their observations in series of letters or essays. Today these literary works can be used as perfect guides that can give an insight into the life new Americans had led centuries and centuries ago. Such literary works also help Americans learns how their country has been created.
Letters from an American Farmer is series of essays written by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur who emigrated from Europe to North America. In fact, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur was the only American author who was well received and afterwards, respected and valued by the Europeans.
To begin with I would like to state the main themes of each of the twelve letters. After that I will talk about each of these themes in details and show how these themes had been developed. In the first of the twelve letters the author introduces the readers to the narrator. This way we learn that the author is actually a farmer who is writing his letters to a fictional journalist in England. The farmer puts together this information for him in order to enlighten the European about the life in the colonies. The second letter talks about the life of an average American farmer. The third discusses the cultural diversity present in the middle part of the future United States. This essay also lists various advantages the new country has got to offer to the immigrant. Succeeding letters talk about the Quaker settlements on Nantucket and Martha's Vinyard, and the presence of slavery in the Charleston district. The tenth and eleventh letters are rather unusual, talking about the nature of North America and not only its flora, but also its fauna, particularly snakes, and the hummingbirds. Finally, the last letter presents the fear of the American farmer of the outburst of a conflict between the colonies and Great Britain.
I believe that the above separate topics of the twelve letters can be summarized into two main themes that are developed in the essays. These themes are: presentation of American to be a country filled with opportunities and liberty for all (American dream), and idealization of American nature and American farmer’s simple unpretentious way of life. In addition, both of these themes, being carefully developed, help form an image of who a real American should be.
In fact, these two main themes are developed one from another.
To begin with, the author presents American nature as something pure and untouched. We see that he is longing for this nature and that for him the sound of a small stream or noise made by moving grass are the sweetest things in the world. This romanticism in the essay, is of course brought about by the tendencies of such European authors as of Richardson, Rousseau, and Burns. It seems that the author is fed up with European pretentiousness, finding happiness in living within nature.
We also see that the author admires how one in America has a chance to work on his simple craft and enjoy living. This brings us to the second main topic – a topic of the American dream. This is a dream for a larger and fuller life possible for everyone, not regarding social and educational status, in the new unknown and undeveloped land. That is why J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur tries to motivate the Europeans to emigrate to America, where they would have economic, social, and psychological stability and freedom.
The discussed work greatly reflects the thinking of that time. As I have already mentioned above, the author talks about the advantages of being a simple farmer and how fulfilling and satisfying simple lifestyle can be. Such thoughts are usual for the neo-classical era. An era, during which the social order was undergoing great change, and the middle class was rising in power. We can also trace deism in J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur’s work. Though, deism is not present in Crevecoeur’s work in its usual form. It seems to me that Crevecoeur sees nature as something godly. Thus, he puts nature in the centre of the letters. The way Crevecoeur is amazed by the nature he is amazed by availability of freedom, also the religious one. He notes that various religious groups are mixed together in the new country. He also believes that this religious groups will soon cease, melting into one religion, suitable for Americans. Other than that there is no reference to god or godly present in the Letters of an American Farmer. Nonetheless, I believe that by placing the relationship between nature and humans to be the centre of the narrative, Crevecoeur follows deistic trends.
I have already mentioned that the Letter of an America Farmer set a very special place in the world and especially American literature. The latter cannot be argued by anyone that is why most of the critics regard the Letters to be a masterpiece. Nevertheless, Crevecoeur’s work has been the subject of extended critical debate. Most of the debate was regarded to the genre, into which the work should be classified. First, the letters were considered to be autobiographical. Though, later different authors emphasized different things in this work, thus taking it far beyond the status of autobiography.
For example, Manuela Albertone, an author of The French moment of the American National Identity; St. John de Crevecoeur’s Agrarian Myth points out how according to Crevecoeur America was supposed to be an agrarian nation. Analyzing and reassessing Crevecoeur’s work Albertone sees that, originally, America’s current political and economic status is very different from the one intended. In fact, Albertone thinks that America has not become an agrarian state because of the small amount of French participation in the creation of the American character. She also portrays Crevecoeur to be an agrarian more than he is an intellectual, referring to him as to a naturalist rather than a journalist. This view is rather unusual, knowing that Crevecoeur was a well recognized European journalist and writer (Albertone).
The article Propaganda, Pre-national Critique, and Early American Literature published in American Literary History collection sees the Letters of an American Farmer in a different light. Mainly, the work is seen as a propaganda text, one of many, circulating around the enlightened European circles and within the colonies. Though, what has to be remembered is that the author of the letters is not a revolutionist. He is attached to the country, he is devoted to the principles of democracy and equality for all. Still, it is clear from the text that Crevecoeur himself is not a fighter. Rather he is scared of the possible war. Also, it has to be mentioned, that Crevecoeur does mention the dark side of America that is slavery. It is interesting that the discussed article considers that Crevecoeur’s optimism is genuine, though being rather propagandist. While many other critics think that Crevecoeur is being ironic in his work.
Another interesting aspect of the work is pointed out by Christine Holbo in Imagination, Commerce and the Politics of Associationism in Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer. Holbo views the narrator of the work as a two-faced character: a simple farmer and an enlightened intellectual. She also sees the Letters as a literary compromise made on the Enlightenment principles between the optimistic Farmer and the pessimistic French journalist Crevecoeur. This duet is not peaceful, but is rather in constant tension. Holbo also refers to authors who have traced the changed that occurs in the style of the letters as the Farmer breaks free of his illusions (Holbo). It is interesting that while for Holbo and many other critics the disappointment in denouement is clear, for others the work continues to be more romantic and propagandist.
When it comes to my interpretation of the work I can say that in some way these letters can be looked at as a propaganda pamphlet. The language used by the author as well as what he is saying about the country is bright and emotional. It seems that every word in the Letters agitates one to move to America to see the wonder the “American farmer” is describing. At the same time one cannot overlook the adorable way in which the author describes America from all sides: as a framer he pays attention to the nature and agriculture, as a thinker he tries to see what opportunities this land has got to offer for those coming all the way from Europe.
Additionally, I see the importance of the work for our times. This work provides useful information and understanding of the way America used to be centuries ago. This work is also maybe the first place where the unique American identity is tried to be created. This is also a first time when America’s innocence and simplicity is celebrated. Finally, Crevecoeur is the first writer to explore the concept of the American Dream and put forward the question about “Who an American is?”