1. The Ideal American

Crévecoeur describes the American melting pot; a melting pot not only created by its inhabitants but also by the land. He links the American identity with nature. The identity of an American is defined by his proximity and relation to nature. The ideal American is one who is separated from the “crowded society” of England, but not so separated that he degenerates as a man (57). The ideal American is one who is “[sober, honest, and industrious]” (61). He must labor the land and not be idle and immoral. He becomes an American once he has forgotten the ways of the European; he no longer bends to their class system, and instead makes his own way (60). Crévecoeur details three environments that shape an American: the northern coast, the middle settlements, and the woods. He prefers the American of the middle settlements because they are detached enough from society to remain laborious and moral without degenerating or dealing in iniquity—the ideal American.

Americans are all immigrants. Their American identity rests in the environment in which they live in. Nature/the land is their mother. It raises them based on the sources it has to offer them. The men of the coast are raised through fishing and husbandry. They are the ones with the most interaction with society, hence, the most immoral and least American. The men of the middle settlements are raised as farmers. The fertile land supplements them for their laborious undertakings. It feeds and enriches them. The man closest to nature is raised as part of nature— as an animal. He degenerates as a man and fights with nature for his survival. The land does not supplement him, instead it hunts him; he must hunt it to survive, becoming more like an animal in the process. As Crévecoeur states, “the chase renders him ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable,” (52).

The ideal American is not an animal or a European. He is a sensible, hard working man who builds himself up from the land. He uses the fertility that surrounds him to make and establish his life. He does not idle with society and does not live a life of vice. The ideal American knows the value of labor and of his land; he works it hard so that in turn it supplies him with life.

St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. Hector. “What is an American?” Letters from an American Farmer.New York: Dutton, 1877. 39-68. Print.


One response to this post.

  1. I like how your interpretation of The Ideal American includes a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Crevecoeur emphasizes the value of European immigrants working the land. He also denounces the native hunters for not properly living of the land and choosing instead to live off wild game. Crevecoeur’s article probably had an influence in shaping how people viewed the New World. He made then see all the new land as opportunity for farming and was in favor of a largely agrarian society. This differs from most European perspectives and the focus on industrial development prevalent at the time.

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