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Comparing Letters from an American Farmer and Thoreau's Various Essays

analytical Essay
1802 words
1802 words
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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)

Works Cited:

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.

In this essay, the author

  • Compares jean de crèvecoeur's letters from an american farmer and henry david thoreau’s essays and journal entries. both writers agree that there are two kinds of americans: farmers and non-farmers.
  • Analyzes how industrialization and higher education created compact communities unable to economically provide the land needs of farmers. thoreau's concord was among the many towns allowing people to leave their farms for a more urban setting.
  • Opines that a lack of industry in any vocation eventually leads to failure. thoreau sees little value in industry.
  • Narrates how they find old boundmarks, and the slowness and dullness of farmers reconfirmed. they complain that they walk too fast for them and their legs have become stiff from toil.
  • Analyzes how thoreau's disdain for work leads to criticism of the farmers who pay him. it seems naive of him to freely criticize those who do.
  • Analyzes how thoreau and emerson represent a return to nature. americans of the time commonly saw nature as an opponent to be conquered.
  • Explains that almost all man's improvements, such as the building of houses and the cutting down of the forest, deform the landscape and make it more and more tame and cheap.
  • Explains that early americans needed to fight the wild to survive. crèvecoeur states that the work of a farmer, if done properly, increases the value and productivity of the land.
  • Analyzes how he beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, and immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows and bridges.
  • Explains that kneaded land and infrastructure are a blessing to immigrant farmers from europe. they will not have to chop the trees, till the land, or build the bridges themselves.
  • Argues that thoreau's freedom is the unbounded ability to pick up and go, while crèvecoeur sees the path to freedom in owning land.
  • Explains that newcomers receive ample rewards for their labors; these accumulated rewards procure them lands, confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title every benefit is affixed.
  • Opines that for the immigrant farmer, coming from a country which provides nothing but "pinching penury" and "frowns from the rich," the ability to own, work, and benefit from his or her own land is absolute freedom.
  • Analyzes how crèvecoeur, witnessing thoreau's vision of men living in the wild, stresses that such a lifestyle leads to chaos and lawlessness.
  • Opines that the man who takes the liberty to live is superior to all the laws, by virtue of his relation to the lawmaker.
  • Analyzes how thoreau would have anarchy. he does not point out fault with any specific law, so we may assume he merely dislikes the idea of being governed.
  • Explains that men are placed farther beyond the reach of government, which in some measure leaves them to themselves. the reunion of such people does not afford a pleasing spectacle.
  • Analyzes how crèvecoeur's description of the origins of these men shows that they are not all on thoreau’s level of refinement.
  • Analyzes how crèvecoeur's description of the american farmer is bound in experience, observation, and the realities of bringing western civilization to the new world. thoreau makes many good points in his writings, but they are not all grounded in reality.
  • Analyzes how modern american culture tends to sentimentalize crèvecoeur's quaint farming life. the large plots of agricultural land in and around concord which thoreau disliked are now homes and businesses.
  • Opines that the day will come when the land will be partitioned into so-called pleasure-grounds.
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