Crèvecoeur: Men as Plants… Question 1

In his Letter from an American Farmer: “what is an American”, Crèvecoeur describes the ideal American as the product of cultural exchange and the new, specific environment. He explains that Americans were once “scattered all over Europe”, as if to metaphorically suggest that the citizen’s of this new state came from different European origins while at the same time, suggesting that they are no longer scattered but united in their new American home (44). This connects to Crèvecoeur’s clear intentions of identifying and elucidating a sort of proto-nationalism that idealizes specific American attributes: industriousness, diverse origins, and essential equality.

In examining the reality of cultural exchange in America, Crèvecoeur explains how a large portion of cultural identity—specifically religion and generally intolerance— is lost  “evaporate[d] in the great distance it has to travel” (51). The isolation and separateness of the new American society is exemplified through the long and perilous journey. The reality is that this trip was customarily undertaken by the poor or persecuted. It serves as a real crucible; testing the fortitude of the travelers, and weeding out the weak. At the same time, Crèvecoeur employs it nearly rhetorically, explaining its effects as diffusing the gunpowder keg of Europe.

Crèvecoeur also makes the simile “Men are like plants;” that the physical environment plays a large part in an individual’s development. He explains how regional differences within the American boundaries will ultimately breed different cultural developments. This is most strongly emphasized in his examination of the back-settlers, which he warns may become barbaric or otherwise separate from his American ideal. This analogy provokes an ecocritical reading to the extent that moral considerability can be shifted towards plants; if men are like plants then plants are like men. This may be comparable to the ‘deep ecology’ philosophical perspective.

It is clear that Crèvecoeur is attempting to explain the American experience as it effects (is effecting) the development of the fledgling American society. He specifies that even though the inhabitants might have been linked to one culture or another, upon arrival a “great metamorphosis” has taken place (60), they have become citizens of one nation. The force of this metamorphosis is the “common casualt[y] of nature”, the features of American life as both a struggle and a time of growth.

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

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