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American Identity In Franklin And Crevecoeur Works

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At the end of eighteenth century America was just beginning to create its national identity. The society still had close ties with the British Empire and was about to determine who was this immigrant new citizen in the formation of independent country. Crevecouer’s “Letters from an American Farmer” (1782) and “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”(1793) were two most influential works, fiction nonfiction, at the time and elaborated on these ideas. Indeed, the personas, presented in these texts helped to unite people and show that the American, a white male immigrant, is a free, self-made and eager citizen that is able to create wealth in the new world.

To begin with, Franklin and Crevecoeur form a close connection with their readers while portraying characters that are representations of the common man. The main persona in Crevecouer’s work is Farmer James, a hard-working, self-thaught man that received “no other education than the art of reading and writing.” (Creveroeur) James addresses his letters to a fictional character, an intellectual European named Mr F.B. Throughout the letters, the farmer expresses his detachment from the ideas of his mother country that restricted his liberties and did not provide economic stability (Crevecouer). Contrary to the farmer image, Franklin presents a more industrious persona. While working for his brother under the indentured servitude, he learns the craft of book printing that latter allows him to establish his own printing house. Similarly to Farmer James, Franklin did not receive a formal education, he familiarized himself with philosophical concepts and improved his language and writing skills while reading and establishing a library that “afforded {me} the Means of Improvement by constant Study … and thus repair’d in some Degree the Loss of the Learned Education.” (Franklin). “Letters from an American farmer” and “the Autobiography” create recognizable characters that share common experiences: immigration and establishment in a new society and relation to the cultural past in Europe. These works become platforms where readers can engage and envision themselves in these stories, reflect on a possible better life in a New World.

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The idea of a liberated, self driven and determined man that will prosper and succeed in present in both texts. Farmer James is a man free from financial obligations, social, cultural or geographical limitations. Since ownership of the land for colonialists become a symbol of self-value, it also guarantees personal independence and “has established all our rights; on it is founded our rank, our freedom, our power as citizens, our importance as inhabitants of such a district.” (Crevecoeur) Although Franklin does not emphasize the possession of the land to be the defining symbol of liberation, he is free in his actions, can determine his path and create a successful business. Franklin considers “Industry as a Means of obtaining Wealth and Distinction.”(Franklin) All over the text there is a sense of optimism and a vision of America as a place where men can create a good life for themsleves. Crevecoueur’s character also believes that “the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labour.”(crevecoeur) Hard work and eagerness are key elements that shape Franklin’s and Farmer James’ way of living where the effort they put in equals the rewards they receive. We can see that both characters are driven by the self-interest and individualist ideals that came to define so much of North American identity. They become role models not only for their families but for the rest of the society as well.

In order to establish, Franklin and Farmer James need to better themselves morally. Success for Franklin comes when he cultivates his 13 virtues, he devotes his life to arrive at “moral perfection”(franklin 534), and tries to live “without committing any Fault at anytime”(franklin 534) The character breaks his old habits and temptations, resents injustice and seeks opportunities. Franklin believes that “all that Knowledge … enabled him to be an useful Citizen, and obtain’d for him some Degree of Reputation among the Learner.” (franklin) Even though it is an arduous task to acquire all these virtues, the mere process of trying already makes him an important figure in the society. In addition, he believes that education is crucial and knowledge is a powerful tool to use when persuading the opponent and defending ideas. Likewise, James acknowledges the importance of wisdom, “...I respect them … for their early love of letters; their ancient college; for their industry; which to me who am but a farmer, is the criterion of everything.”(Crevecouer) Nevertheless, Farmer James does not present a course of actions for self enhancement, he believes that hard working man will inevitably improve. That is why, the economic, social and cultural progress happens when people adapt and participate in the creation of a greater society.

Franklin and Crevecoeur created strong, independent, self-interested characters that shared stories very close to most colonialists of that time. Although James and Franklin had different occupations, one being a farmer the other businessman, and individual strategies, they both were free and engaged in determining their future, towards achieving prosperity through hard work and righteous actions. These works helped to envision new society and reflect on who this new American might become.

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American Identity In Franklin And Crevecoeur Works. (2021, September 06). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“American Identity In Franklin And Crevecoeur Works.” Edubirdie, 06 Sept. 2021,
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