Crevecoeur – Day One

Hope you enjoy the first installment of Letters from an American Farmer. Let’s remember that this narrative is fictional, even though some of it is drawn from Crevecoeur’s experience (so it is “based on true stories”). The biographical sketch in our anthology offers a helpful summary of its literary classification as “a form of epistolary [letter-writing], philosophical travel narrative that integrates important Enlightenment ideas into descriptions of ordinary American life” (Saar 922). At the very least, Crevecoeur’s status as a Frenchman-turned-American gives us a reason to argue against the rationale for renaming our favorite fast food as “freedom fries” (or does it?).

Questions to consider:

  • Storytelling and style: What purpose does Farmer James’s introductory dialogue with the minister serve, in terms of literary style? What other literary devices do you find that enrich the narrative? Compare and contrast with Paine’s persuasive rhetoric or Edwards’s lyricism for intertextual depth.
  • American identity: What do you make of Crevecoeur’s definition of an American? How does this compare with your own definition and with the themes we have traced in other readings?
  • Enlightenment influence: I will talk a bit on Wednesday, if time permits, about natural law, since this idea influenced Crevecoeur immensely. Crevecoeur riffs occasionally on Enlightenment philosophers like Rousseau, who gave us the famous line, “Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains” (see “The Social Contract” for more from Rousseau). How does the philosophy of Letters from an American Farmer compare to John Locke’s ideas in “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in our anthology (635-6)?

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