Crevecoeur’s Letter Serves to Perpetuate the Image of the Hardy, Free American
“Letters from an American Farmer” was written as an essay describing Crevecoeur’s travels within America; however it’s actually an attempt to give the oppressed people in Europe hope that they could embark on their new tomorrow. The author does this by giving the reader’s back home his view on the land, the people, and the nature of new America.
Crevecoeur's letter to the working class in Europe
Crevecoeur’s letter was written to capture the interest and imagination of the working class in Europe. The author states “Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few visible one” (111). In America the individual arrives as just that, an individual. The European arrives as his own man, beholden to no one but himself. At this time in history there were certainly individuals who were indentured servants, slaves and the property of their masters. These people were likely to Africans and other races of people who were at the time considered beneath the Anglo-Saxon race. The letter wasn’t written with their freedom in mind. The author spoke of races and classes of people specific to Europe. Notice how Crevecoeur makes of point of stating that the class systems and the yokes they employ are absent in America. This also gives the reader insight to which the main audience is, not the wealthy land owner or persons with means, but the individual who wishes to escape their lords and masters. This person strives to worship as they see fit, keep what they’ve sown and grown, and live free.
Advantages of the "New American"
Crevecoeur continues to talk about the obstacles and burdens that the new American would leave behind. He writes “A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met with nothing but frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No!” (112). Although the author was from a wealthy family and well traveled, he seemed to recognize the disparities between the poor and the privileged. The wealthy could, on a whim, have individuals confined, evicted, or even killed. The people in a lower social class had few if any opportunities to change their station in life. Crevecoeur, recognizing how wealth and power can corrupt, possibly wrote this essay in hopes that the information would help liberate these people and soothe his own guilt for being part of the aristocracy.
A new land for an oppressed people
A new land for an oppressed people is the underlying message from Crevecoeur’s essay. However, he didn’t say that just anyone could come to America and partake of the land flowing with milk and honey. To the contrary, in order for someone to find success here they must be willing to toil and work for it. Crevecoeur writes “Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labour” (113). An individual that can’t persevere and overcome the challenges awaiting them in the Americas will not survive. Only people with skills of working the land and or knowledge of a trade coupled with the desire to succeed can hope to conquer this wilderness. Once in America the new arrivals can put their hard work to use and prosper. If their methods don’t work, they can continue and try other methods until they find success. These methods evolve and from this innovation come industry. These immigrants, while maintaining the heritage of their mother country, began to transform themselves as citizens of their new country.
America, place of adventure and intrigue
America at the time of Crevecoeur was a place of adventure and intrigue. Land was abundant, animals were plentiful, and people could live in towns or venture into the wilderness on their own. This freedom helped change the new arrivals from downtrodden vagabonds to productive, tough new citizens. Today, the picture of an American is quite different. In the minds of some people there’s the image of the lonely, cowboy roaming the range, dealing with the elements, sleeping under the stars. Some one else may envision people attending church on Sunday, bar bq’s, apple pie and Fourth of July celebrations. My vision of an American is someone who works hard to support their family, contributes to their community, and acknowledges their duty to this country. My America is tolerant of people of any race, nationality and creed. I, like Crevecoeur, also believe that if you are willing to put forth the effort you can overcome the failures of your past and succeed in creating your new future. The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself. Americans are no longer seen as former Europeans, they are the Indians native to this continent. They are from different countries with a multitude of different languages. The one reason they come here is the same reason they did from long ago, to live free and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. This is what I consider an American.
© 2008 Augustine A. Zavala
Crevecoeur, St. Jean De. “Letters from an American Farmer.” The American Tradition In Literature. Ed. George Perkins, Barbara Perkins. McGraw-Hill, 2002. 111-13.