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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   

4. Spirit of Nationalism

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•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur - Teaching Tips

Back Back to J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Activities
  • Students tend to assume that the book's narrator, James, corresponds to Crèvecoeur himself and that Letters from an American Farmer is an essentially autobiographical work. Be sure to make it clear to your class that James is an invented persona, and that Crèvecoeur sometimes uses the distance between himself and his narrator to produce ironic effects. You might focus on the horrific description of James's encounter with the tortured slave in Letter IX to make this point. How does the narrator react to the spectacle of the dying slave in the cage? Why doesn't he take any action to help the man? What are we to make of the line informing us that the narrator "mustered strength enough to walk away"? How does he interact with the owners of the slave when he eats dinner with them later that evening?

  • Letters from an American Farmer does not fall easily into a particular genre; it has been read as a travel narrative, an epistolary novel, an autobiography, a work of natural history, and a satire. To explore this question of genre and audience, ask students to imagine that they are Crèvecoeur's publisher and are responsible for marketing his book to eighteenth-century readers. Ask them to think about how they would describe and promote the book, and what readers they would hope to reach. Would the book be more interesting to Europeans or to Americans? How would they summarize the book for marketing purposes? Where would they shelve the book in a bookstore?

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