J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur

In reading the first few pages of J. Hector St. John de Crevecour’s “From Letter III. What is an American,” I was reminded of the themes we discussed yesterday (i.e., the new world inhabitants as model citizens/Exceptionalism) when reviewing Winthrop’s writings. This is especially evident on page 311: “we are the most perfect society now existing in the world.” However, I saw several differences in the reasoning used by Crevecour as opposed to Winthrop to explain why these settlers were perfect models. Instead of using religious devotion and brotherly love to argue for their superiority, Crevecoeur focuses more on the freedom and endless opportunity to succeed in this newly discovered land of riches. I was wondering if anyone saw this as well, or if you thought Crevecoeur was thinking something else.

On another note, looking at Letter III as a whole, I came across a possible contradiction. Crevecoeur seems to say that the Motherlands (i.e., European countries) were reservoirs of conflict and provided motivation for emigration, but they also served as roots and support: “when convulsed by factions, afllicted by a variety of miseries and wants, reseltess, impatient, took refuge here. They brought along with them their national genius, to which they principally ove what liberty they enjoy, and what substance they possess. Here he sees the industry of his native country displayed in a new manner, and traces in their works the embryos of all the arts, sciences, and ingenuity which flourish in Europe” (310). I think it is unclear whether or not Crevecoeur thought settlers wanted to completely abandon their European roots or if they wanted to retain them in some way. Is this something that you agree with? It seems like he believes that the new world provided novel opportunities for the poor population in Europe to meet with prosperity due to the lack of established social classes. However, perhaps he wants to emphasize and an internal struggle to remain connected with Europe: “Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury, can that man call England or any other kingdom his country” (312)?

I particularly enjoyed Crevecoeur’s use of structure to create an image with text on the page where he describes a common chain that links everyone; the poor become citizens in the new world, they are protected by laws, rewarded for their labor, given land, and obey the laws written by the government, which was designed by the citizens and approved by their home countries. Do you think that his choice to use the word “chain” to describe the connection between Europe and the New World implies some sort of forced, slave-like attachment? It seems to me like Crevecoeur continuously emphazises a struggle for the poor European immigrants to separate themselves from their roots and establish a new life in a new land.

Crevecoeur also focuses on the idea of distance and how it has facilitated the development of very different populations of inhabitants with different values and qualities.  He seems to conclude that the farther a population moves from the coast and the closer they are to the wooded lands, the less tied they are to religion and good manners. Do you think he is trying to say that the farther inland an immigrant goes the farther they stray from their European roots? If so, is this a good thing? Also, what do you think about his description of the people living in the “gerat woods” on page 314-5? In my opinion, Crevecoeur believes that progress is defined by the creation of new farm lands and the developmental of a society that relies of agriculture for sustenance not hunting and gathering, which he sees as regression.

In reading Letter IX, I was most drawn towards Crevecoeur’s view of slavery: “While all is joy, festivity, and happiness in Charles-Twon, would you imagine the scences of misery overspread in the country? Their ears by habit are become become deaf, their hearts are hardened; they neither see, hear, nor feel for the woes of their poor slaves, from whose painful labors all their wealth proceeds” (321). However, although I appreciate his compassion for the great dichotomy he establishes between the settlers’ success and slaves’ suffering and for the compassion he had for the slave imprisoned in a cage, I was bothered by the lack of sympathy for the destrution of the Native American population. Did anyone else feel this way? Why did he have a soft heart for African slaves and not for the Native Americans?

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One Response to J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur

  1. Eveon11 says:

    One reason why Crevecoeur might feels compassion for the African slaves and not for the Native Americans is because of the mentality to establish the United States identity. His work seems to imply that being American is largely constructed by the over-seas travel by immigration. This idea goes back to whether or not differet authors conceptualize a nations people or geographic location to embody a culture. Here, I think it could be argued that Crevecoeur identifies a number of life experiences that make American people ‘American.’

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