Crevecouer’s Ideal American

               As an American farmer, Crevecouer sees America in just that light: an agrarian society. Thus in his letter, “What is an American,” he asserts that the ideal American is a hardworking, sober, landowning and harvest-reaping individual from any former nationality. He is writing from the American pastoral view that Garrard details in “Ecocriticism.” He uses nature metaphorically to show how individuals from different backgrounds can be American. Crevecouer also juxtaposes farming and hunting. He uses nature to explain his argument that farming is reaping one’s hard work, while hunting is a barbaric way to live.

              Crevecouer describes the budding country as a melting pot; “From English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans and Swedes…that race now called Americans [had arisen].” But how would middle and lower class men with such differing ideologies live peaceably on common soil? By appreciating the equality and freedom they were given as individuals in America and no longer as peasants owing the majority of their earnings to a church or oppressive government.

                 Crevecouer uses a simile with plants to depict this move. “In Europe, they were so many useless plants…they withered and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war; but now by the power of transplantation they have taken root and flourished (42)!” America was fresh soil for democracy, capitalism, and nationalism, perfect for the development of the ideal American. Again, Crevecouer states men are like plants being molded by their environment that can only grow  as much as their government, religion, and employment allows (44). This is why men who were not successful in their respective countries came to America and were prosperous. Crevecouer also uses nature metaphorically to depict the transplantation of European men to America saying, “Every industrious European who transports himself here, may be compared to a sprout growing at the foot of a great tree; it enjoys and draws but a little portion of sap; wrench it from the parent roots, transplant it, and it will become a tree bearing fruit also (56).” The ideal American must use the agrarian skills he learned in his home country on new American soil to produce a harvest.

                  Crevecouer outlines the cultural hierarchy of America from seaboard inward. Those on the east coast were the most cultured, colonies in the middle were simple agrarian people abiding by the limits of goverment and religion, and those in the deep woods were barbaric, inebriated, temperamental hunters. Crevecouer saw the hunting lifestyle as a degeneration of the ideal American.  Often in literature, nature is identified as a lawless place. In Shakespeare’s, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the forest is portrayed as an immoral, lacking control and restrictions from society.

                  America was new soil, therefore Crevecouer’s ideal American was an individual who cultivated that soil, literally and metaphorically.

 

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

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by al002 on September 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I agree with your post “Crèvecoeur’s Ideal American,” and how American became a “melting pot” for all the Europeans that were “transplanted” as if they were seeds to adopt the American idea of “cultivat[ing the] soil, literally and metaphorically.” This metaphor is more than appropriate considering the quote, “Every industrious European who transports himself here…” (56) that these Europeans who in their original environment where thought of as weeds but when “transplanted” to American they became a thriving plant no longer undesirable. Also among these desirable plants a hierarchy was established with the ones at the top being close to the coast and the levels declining further inland.

  2. Posted by krath422 on September 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I enjoyed your entire post but I really was most agreeable with the part that discusses Crevecoeur’s interpretation of people as plants. He calls European’s “useless” and they transplanted themselves over here in American where they became flourishing plants due to our soil and landscape. It is an extension of his belief that it is your environment that makes a person who they are, so a plant living in soil that is not strong and healthy (Europe) will not produce the same time of plant that grows in soil that is fresh and able to sustain the amount plants growing there, like America is. I also like the mention of hunting and farming because it is something that Crèvecoeur seems very passionate about discussing. Europeans were seen as “barbaric” because they did not farm their land and make it rich; reap the benefits that the soil as to offer. This is just another way of showing the hard work that Americans put into their land.

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