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The Issue of the American Identity Essay


Those Europeans who established colonies at the new territories of America hoped to start the better life. The cultural and national diversity of the first settlers was discussed as the specific feature to characterize the new nation which began to form in America.

Thus, the development of the American identity was the prolonged process, and it depended on the progress of new principles associated with the ideas of freedom and independence. The idea of American identity is discussed in the works of such authors as Henry David Thoreau, Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur, and Thomas Paine. In his Walden, Thoreau focuses on an American as a man seeking for closeness with the nature.

Crevecoeur discusses the controversial question of being an American in his Letter III: What Is an American?. In his work The American Crisis, Paine pays attention to the concepts which are important for an American as the representative of the new nation. In spite of the fact three authors concentrate on different significant features discussing the American identity, their ideas are similar in relation to the point that Americans are independent people and liberty is the main value for them.

Emphasizing various aspects and details, Thoreau, Crevecoeur, and Paine provide their unique answers to the question of the American identity. However, the writers’ visions are similar regarding the key notions which are significant for the Americans without references to their origin and aspects of life. The image of an American can be based on the analysis of such features as the character traits, background, goals, possible challenges and obstacles.

The position of Thoreau in relation to the American identity differs significantly from the views of Crevecoeur and Paine. In Walden, the author focuses on the personal development apart from the society. To find themselves, the Americans should live a simple life in the harmony with the nature without focusing on the material and wealth (Thoreau 603-604).

Nevertheless, this idea is opposite to the developed American dream which characterizes Americans as persistent and goal-oriented persons who strive for the success and happiness.

Thoreau’s American has the diverse cultural background, but he is free from the impact of the empires and societies. Furthermore, this American focuses on his inner world, self-development and self-reliance. Being close to the nature, this man should find the harmony of his world. The American’s main goal is to understand himself and follow a simple life full of natural obstacles (Thoreau 605-607). From this point, the image of Thoreau’s American is not tied to the concept of nation.

The discussed image reflects the features of any human living in the harmony with the world. Although Thoreau’s vision of a real American is rather philosophical, the author agrees that independence should be the main characteristic of the human life, and this point allows speaking about Thoreau’s image of a true American in the context of the national identity.

An American described by Crevecoeur in Letter III: What Is an American? Is also independent and self-reliant as the image provided by Thoreau, but Crevecoeur proposes the more detailed description of the principles according to which the American identity can be defined. In his work, Crevecoeur follows the history of the nation’s development and focuses on the features which are important for the Americans to succeed in their country. To achieve the ideals of the American dream, the nation should be persistent and hard-working.

The author pays much attention to the role of colonization and further independence for the development of the American identity. Being only poor people in the European countries, the new Americans are citizens of the new world who have opportunities to develop their potential and achieve the American dream as the period of the greatest prosperity. According to Crevecoeur, the nation has the flourishing future because of the mixture of nations and Americans’ ability to reach the goals (Crevecoeur 304-308).

The main challenge which can be associated with the development of the new nation is the necessity to build the new independent society, free from the European impact, focused on individualism and liberty, and worked out to promote the idea of the common good (Crevecoeur 304-308).

Thus, Crevecoeur’s American is independent, self-reliant, hard-working, and responsible. The author is inclined to exaggerate the opportunities provided in America and the abilities of the Americans to achieve their goals, but the discussed image is closely correlated with the notion of the American dream and responds to the discussion of the American identity.

Paine’s discussion of the American identity is based on the analysis of the background. The necessity to win freedom from the British Empire is discussed by the author as the driving force to direct the Americans’ actions. According to Paine, the Americans hope only for independence in order to live the appropriate life as free people (Paine 295-296).

Thus, one more author states that pursuing for independence is the main feature which can characterize Americans in the context of their identity and historic development of the nation. Nevertheless, Paine adds to the list of the character traits typical for the Americans. The writer concentrates on the Americans’ humanity, their focus on justice, and equality. From this point, the main challenge which prevents the Americans from achieving their independence and freedom as the main goal is the consequences of the British Empire’s impact.

Following the ideas presented by Paine in his work, the Americans can be described as concentrated on the civil rights and freedoms and on their individualistic goals (Paine 295-296). As a result, the image of the Americans and their national identity are based on the ideals of justice, equality, and freedom.

Paine’s ideas are more correlated with Crevecoeur’s discussion because Thoreau’s thoughts on the Americans are more utopian in comparison with the visions of the two other authors. If Paine and Crevecoeur focus on the social aspects of the Americans’ development, Thoreau is inclined to state that the individual progress is more significant that the focus on prosperity (Thoreau).

Although Thoreau, Crevecoeur, and Paine choose different aspects to focus on the discussion of the Americans, the particular features of their characters, their new life, intentions, and typical features, the basic ideas of the authors reflect each other.

Thus, the complex notion of the American identity can be developed with references to the idea that the Americans are rather unique in their extreme focus on independence. The concept of independence and associated notions of freedoms and liberty are the basic values followed by the Americans in spite of their origin, cultural background, and social status. Independence, liberty, and freedom are the ideas which are mentioned in the works of the three authors who paid much attention to the discussion of the American identity.

Moreover, referring to Thoreau, Crevecoeur, and Paine’s works, an ordinary American is a self-reliant, independent, honest, hard-working, and persistent person who is oriented to achieving the certain goal. The intention to reach prosperity and success can be discussed as the American dream which is typical for many representatives of the nation, and it is also the part of the American identity.

Works Cited

Crevecoeur, Michel-Guillaume Jean. “Letter III: What Is an American?” Harper Single Volume American Literature. Ed. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. USA: Longman, 1998. 301-315. Print.

Paine, Thomas. “The American Crisis”. Harper Single Volume American Literature. Ed. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. USA: Longman, 1998. 294-299. Print.

Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden”. Harper Single Volume American Literature. Ed. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. USA: Longman, 1998. 602-697. Print.

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