What is an American?

At the center of this course is the question of “identity.” Not only will we be talking about American Identity in general, but our course will often focus in on the conflict between what society expects versus individual identity and individual expression. In “Letter III: What is an American,” Crevecoeur asks the question and provides this answer:

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What then is the American, this new man? He is either a European, or the descendant of a European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. He is an American, who, leaving 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. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men. Americans are the western pilgrims. . . .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 labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence—This is an American. (Crevecoeur, 2008, p. 312-313).

Using texts from the first two seminars, write an essay that explores that central idea of the American as a “new man” who reshapes himself in response to the environment. Tied up in this idea is that stepping away from conforming to tradition on one hand and conforming to a new set of standards on the other. In your first paper, you’ll be analyzing a specific author’s work in light of that idea of how the American is a “new human”.

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