The Ideal American

Crevecoeur juxtaposes between hunters and farmers to perpetuate his Cornucopian capitalist values while also giving examples of a fledging American pastoral. Although, for a farmer, religion takes a back seat to crop yields (or arguably it becomes a religion to Crevecoeur) it is altogether lost on a hunter. Here Deep ecologists would point out the great problem, “It identifies the dualistic separation of humans from nature promoted by Western philosophy and culture as the origin of environmental crisis” (Garrard 21).  Crevecoeur demonstrates how all the farmers do their work, all devout, doing God’s work, while being free to worship or not as he also states that there is a religious fallout that naturally takes place in America. To Crevecoeur, the American is a new race that must take on new ways of thinking while applying the tools and technology born in Europe to the land. To him there is also a difference between country and land. Land is to be cultivated and country is be cared for and loved: “the simple cultivation of the earth purifies them,” and because of this they will love their country’s embrace (Crevecoeur 45). And to be a man, a citizen, he must own land.

To Crevecoeur, once the tools of farming are thrown away and the gun is accepted, the biggest sin has committed. In the woods, men become hunters, move away from the land and eventually lose the will to harvest. Crevecoeur delineates the hierarchies of American populations. Seafarers who value transit are cultured, and this would include the eastern seaboard. Slowly, he demonstrates that the further inland people go the more barbarous and simpleminded they become. Rural woods that are not cleared for fields do not allow for culture or a construction thereof, because of the distances between people—something that is unique from Europe.

While Crevecoeur raises up the poor European immigrant he embraces an ideal sort of egalitarian middle and lower class, or some type of mystic society where everyone can eventually reach the very same rank; who are not oppressed by a state church; monarchy, or aristocracy and can retreat from Europe’s urban industrialism. He displays a combination of Cornucopian capitalism while simultaneously denigrating the class of hunters, who are also American. The hunters are poor and it is difficult to differentiate between them and the poor European. Either way, the hunters will eventually remove and the civilized man will come to clear the land. There is a funny commonality between the poor European and the hunter that I’m not so sure Crevecoeur saw.

We find Crevecoeur’s values clearly contrasted between hunter and farmer.. Crevecoeur shows the American pastoral, putting a strong value in the work of the land. Indeed he rarely mentions the aesthetic qualities that with which British and Classical pastoral were concerned (Garrard 49). By contrast the hunters do none of what is valuable and as quoted before, are not purified. What is lost on the hunters is democracy and capitalism. Crevecoeur repeatedly emphasizes the idea of one man hatching an idea after acquiring skills, goes out on his own and is likely to prosper, using nature as a tool, a part of the entrepreneur’s ingenuity. Opposite to success, the hunters descend into drunkenness and idleness.

In hunting we find immorality, insatiability, drunkenness and oblivion. In farming we find culture, manners, sobriety, virtue and religion.

Also, I would like to posture a question, on page 54 of Crevecoeur he uses the word ‘rustic’, I wonder what this word meant back then, and how different was it from what means now? I could be the same, I don’t know.

References

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yribaf on September 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I agree that Crèvecoeur’s values are contrasted when it comes to hunters and farmers. He considers hunters as less than human, barbaric, and their manners less respectable than that of the Native Americans even though the Natives are also hunters (p.52). He seems to be saying ‘how could anyone return to a hunter’s life once they have experienced the high class living of a farmer?’
    Despite trying to find differences between an ‘American’ way of life and a ‘European’ way of life, they are still very similar, the only difference is that Europeans have more ‘freedom’ when it comes to their taxes and how much money they give to the church. Crèvecoeur says “we know, properly speaking, no strangers; this is every person’s country; the variety of our soils, situations, climates, governments, and produce, hath something which must please everybody” (p.56). Crèvecoeur is only referring to a limited way of life in this explanation of American life and yet he still tries to make it seem like you can choose whatever way of life you want. If you decide to forgo a Cornucopian, farming way of life then you are not considered in the same class anymore as the rest of the farmers, even though Crèvecoeur assures people that there is no class system in America. You are immediately looked upon as barbaric and sub-par human if you decide to hunt and have leisure time because, in his eyes, leisure time means more time to indulge oneself with alcohol. Crèvecoeur cannot fathom that the hunters can still have a culture in their free time that doesn’t lead to alcohol consumption. He almost seems ashamed to talk about the hunters in American society and forewarns those who do decide to come to America in his writing about these people that are “ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable” because of the chase of hunting (p.51).

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

  2. The word rustic had multiple meanings back then. Typically, it means “of, relating to, or characteristic of the countryside” or a person “living in the countryside as opposed to the town; of a peasant or agricultural.” According to the OED, the first written account of this first meaning of “rustic” is 1440; the second meaning is first recorded in 1582. There’s also another meaning which I think is Crevecoeur’s usage on the page you’re referring to: “Having the appearance or manners of a country person; esp. (depreciative) lacking in elegance, refinement, or education; boorish; ignorant.” According to the OED, this usage first appeared c1550 and is now rare, but is still used today. “Rustic” can also mean “Physically robust; hardy; (of health) vigorous, rude,” which first appeared the written record in 1620.

    • Posted by bharta1 on September 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      Very cool! I would not in today’s vernacular associate the word rustic with something negative. In fact I get the image of the prototypical Wilderness trope: pristine, untouched landscape, or at least something close to it, rather than something degrading or malicious. Glad you could make out the question from my poor writing.

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