Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur 1735-1813
(Wrote under the name J. Hector St. John) French-born American fiction writer and novelist. INTRODUCTION
Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur was a naturalized American citizen whose observations on life in pre-Revolutionary America are still read today. His most famous work, Letters from an American Farmer (1782), was instrumental in differentiating the life and culture of the American colonies from that of Europe, and in helping to establish an American literary tradition out of common cultural experience where none was believed to exist. He is credited with formulating the idea of America as a melting pot where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.” One of the book's individual letters, “What Is an American?,” has long been considered a classic articulation of the character and identity of the members of that new nation.
St. Jean de Crevecoeur wrote a collection of Letters from an American Farmer during the Revolution. Written from the point of view of an ordinary man, a happy American farmer, Crevecoeur's letters are the first American text to ask and answer the question, "What is an American?" (Saar 849). Crevecoeur defines an American as being any person who "leaves behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds....Americans are the western pilgrims who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry....The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence" (Crevecoeur 857). Basically, he...