36.5: Proud to be an American, Where at Least I Know I’m… Part of an Industry?
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In J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Crèvecoeur makes the claim that America is a nation built upon hard work, freedom, generosity, and that the American identity is one based on a variety of different experiences, both racial and religious, but is based more so upon a mutual respect for these differences. Crèvecoeur paints this positive identity within the minds of the readers when he explains, “Thus all sects are mixed as all nations; thus religious indifference is imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other; which is… one of the strongest characteristics of the Americans.” (611). Essentially, Crèvecoeur is stating that the many differences existing among Americans as far as their demographic backgrounds are concerned does not matter in America, as it is a nation based upon diversity.
However, Crèvecoeur seems to contradict this positive image throughout his narrative, switching back and forth between claiming that America is a land of respected diversity, and claiming that America is a “chain of settlements” (605). While the author continues to create an extremely elaborate yet positive image of what it means to be an American, he continuously refers to America as an “industry”. While it can be considered general knowledge that America’s success as a nation can be accounted for by industrialization, by consistently referring back to America as an “industry”, it creates the image of America’s identity being more of a mass-produced product rather than something unique and original to each individual, and therefore, undermining America’s national identity.
In short, Crèvecoeur’s narrative makes the claim that America’s national identity is based upon the “American Dream”- that if you put your best effort forward and work hard enough, you can obtain anything you set your mind to, regardless of your race, religion, or financial standing. However, this same identity is attributed to ALL Americans, thus making it so that this same identity can be considered as a product that is mass-generated. Overall, Crèvecoeur’s narrative implies that American literature traditions are also based upon freedom and struggle, but also that we cannot view all American literature through this sense; we must give each piece its own unique scrutiny so that we can continue to learn and have a better understanding of what it means to be an American.