September 6, 2011
Defining and American Identity
In the letter, “What is an American,” J Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur uses imagery and simile to compare nature to the ideal American identity. For example, Crèvecoeur says “Men are like plants; the goodness and flavor of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow. We are nothing but what we derive from the government we obey and the nature of our employment.” (Pg 5) Plants will not flourish gracefully if the soil they are planted is rotten. Similarly, Americans do not have the same opportunity to flourish in Europe. Most settlers, Crèvecoeur points out, come to America because of the opportunities, freedom, and equality all men seem to possess. People may start from nothing in America but surely with hard work and perseverance they are able to live a decent lifestyle. From the beginning to the end of his letter, Crèvecoeur seems to compare the American to the European. Crèvecoeur’s definition of an American is the person who “leaves behind him all of his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the mode of life he embraces, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he hold.” (pg 4) Therefore, we can see that because an American does not follow the rules of the English king but follows what the American Alma Matter says, is hard working, and submits to the American customs then that is what distinguishes him from the European. Compared the European Nature, Europeans have huge social gaps, follow unrighteous laws, and is not free. Nature is free and so man deserves the same right! Unlike Europe, there were “so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mould, and refreshing showers; they withered, and were mowed down but want, hunger, and war.” (pg4) Americans lay their roots, their foundation in America and will not wither away because we have good soil, we have fertile ground. In essence, our foundation is viewing your fellow American with equal eyes, working hard on your land and following a new system.
St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. Hector. “What is an American?” Letters from an American Farmer. New York: Dutton, 1877. 39-68. Print.