Comparing Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer and Thoreau's Various Essays
St. Jean De Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer and Henry David Thoreau's various essays and journal entries present opposing views of what it means to be an American. To somewhat simplify, both writers agree that there are two kinds of Americans: those who are farmers and those who are not. Crèvecoeur views farmers as the true Americans, and those who are not farmers, such as frontier men, as lawless, idle, inebriated wretches (266). Sixty years later, Thoreau believes the opposite: farmers are doomed and bound to their land, and free men who own nothing posses the only true liberty (9). Both Crèvecoeur and Thoreau judge men and their professions on industry, use of nature, freedom, and lawfulness.
As America grew during these six decades, industrialization and higher education created more compact communities unable to economically provide the land needs of farmers. In Crèvecoeur's America, "some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the earth"(263). In 1850, Thoreau's Concord was among the many towns allowing people to leave their farms for a more urban setting to house their law practices, shoe stores, or surveying businesses. The separation of farmers from the rest of society leads to intellectualizations of the profession by thinkers like Thoreau. Removed from the simple, hard labor of farming, it is easy for urbanized society to forget the farmer's purpose and importance in Western civilization.
Crèvecoeur states that "industry, which to me who am but a farmer, is the criterion of everything"(264). Indeed, a lack of industry in any vocation eventually leads to failure. Thoreau, however, sees little value in indu...
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...d as Thoreau was from self-supporting agriculture, modern America is light years away. Thoreau's ideal lifestyle is now an impossibility. Many Americans would settle for an unadorned life on a small farm, and a clean, dry home.
Possibly the day will come when [the land] will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only-when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's grounds. ... Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come. (Thoreau 667)
Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de. Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. Ed. Albert E. Stone. New York: Penguin, 1981.