American Notes: a Journey

Topics: United States, Americas, Charles Dickens Pages: 5 (2068 words) Published: May 9, 2010
American Notes: A Journey
From the start of novel in which Dickens speaks through the voice of a traveler, it quickly becomes clear that the critical view of the Americans he takes is proof of the audience it was written for, which was the British public, who apparently took interest in the lifestyle of typical Americans at the time. Whether it ended up being as influential as it intended to be or not is a debatable question, but one can assume that the point of view he writes in and the readers it appealed to at the time made it a topic of discussion among those who looked at travel writing as an entertaining source on current events. I believe Dickens’ drive for writing this was based on his desire to produce a first hand account of America, but through a frame of subtle intercultural criticism that poked fun at America’s blunders in etiquette and essentially supplanted Britain’s contempt for our culturally crass yet increasingly powerful nation. As Dickens’ journey began, he appeared very excited to be going on a tour to America, but when he steps on the steamboat Britannia he is noticeably not as enthusiastic. He states, “We had experienced a pretty smart shock before coming, which but that we were the most sanguine people living, might have prepared us for the worst.” The living conditions as he describes them on the boat and throughout his journey through America left him feeling frustrated and unimpressed with his initial experience. It was clear that prior to the journey he believed he would have been received with the best treatment throughout his tour, yet later reveals many times that he was “shocked by the ill manners” of Americans. Although Dickens’ words appealed to a Britain’s people at a historically difficult moment for their national identity, American Notes does not accomplish what it sets out to achieve, which is to give an at least somewhat unbiased account of America. It becomes too far skewed by his personal impressions and denial in accepting his status in cultural obscurity for the American people and its literary preferences. He believed so readily that he would be well treated because of his popularity that when he got injured it was a shock. Out of this shock, he recorded his discontent with his treatment by generalizing many Americans to be crude. Further, he goes on to criticize the American press because of an argument he had with a member of the press. As a reader, one would naturally then assume that Dickens could not help himself from writing through an established personal bias. This particular example of how Dickens’ view is not indifferent should force readers to subjectively react to the claims he makes regarding American’s intercultural habits.

Dickens lands in Boston and from there he makes his way to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and Canada before making his way home. The topics that Dickens addressed included America’s institutions, Wall Street, slavery and the American press. Dickens was vastly impressed with the university he saw at Boston. In 1842, the well established author, Charles Dickens toured the United States of America and wrote down an account of his journey within a young democratic nation. The purpose of the book was to give an account of America to the British public. From the very start of the journey, Dickens was speaking in the voice of a traveller whose thriving for adventure gave him and indifferent perspective. Later on within the account, Dickens takes a very critical view upon the Americans. Dickens is and was very popular with many of his creative and funny works such as “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations” during the 1840s, so it was no surprise that “American Notes” had influenced a great number of people within North America and Britain, and even stirred the old political feud that existed between the two nations. “There is no doubt that much of the...
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