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What is an American?, from Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, Letter III

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  1. The process of the evolution from an European to a purely American man, was to a great extent influenced by the environment
  2. Crevecoeur's text's vision however, is quite utopian and in a way lays the foundations for the notion, already palpable here, of the ?American Dream?

A Frenchman by birth, Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur (1735?-1813) soon transformed himself into Hector St. John as part of his quest to become an epitome of the American farmer. Leaving his mother land around 1754 as a pioneer to French Canada, he finally settled in America in the neighborhood of New-York in 1759, and became an American citizen in 1765. He adopted his new country with great enthusiasm, changing his name and, undoubtedly, much of his identity. By the eighteenth century, Americans were rather pleased at having successfully converted the wilderness into an agricultural garden where the human values, highly promoted by Jefferson, would thrive. In 1782, "Letters From an American Farmer?, a series of twelve essays, introducing James, Crèvecoeur's narrator and double as an American farmer were published. Crèvecoeur wrote about a man writing to somebody, which creates a mirror effect. This was an immediate success, especially because the essays reflcted the internal conflicts of the American Revolution and the developing American identity.

[...] The text under study here, taken from Letter III, one of the most famous and most studied ones, trying to give an answer to the question ?What is an American??, puts the emphasis on the process of the evolution from an European to a purely American man, showing that this shaping of a unique and distinct character, or Americanism, was to a great extent influenced by the environment. We will see in our analysis that Crèvecoeur's text, however, does not really expatiate on the various difficulties the settlers had to overcome actually, and that his vision is, as far as this excerpt is concerned, far much optimistic, and even utopian, and that it in a way lays the foundations for the notion, already palpable here, of the ?American Dream?. [...]


[...] Individualism is present, because he has to fend for himself in order to survive, but at the same time, the community is there to lead him on the road to glory. In a way, it is a real awakening, from a shadowy existence towards an active life, from rags to riches, ?from nothing to start into being? (l. 46-47). Above all, there is a feeling of social uniformity and equality. Obviously, the transformation is complete, and the American character is now shaped in all its facets. [...]

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