When the Virginia Company landed at the James River in 1606 no one thought they had just planted the seeds to a powerful and mighty nation. The first immigrants who landed in “America” were a bedraggled bunch looking for a quick buck. Soon more would follow and colonies would sprout up, along with the hope of a better life. Michel – Guillaume Jean de? vecoer was a French emigrant who arrived in America in 1759 and traveled around the country for ten years. His travels gave him the inspiration to write about life in America in a series of twelve essays called Letters from an American Farmer.
One of the best know essays is “What Is an American? ” which uses chronological organization, extended metaphors, symbolism, and diction, to remind the huddled masses of Europe how America has supplied them with a sanctuary from the oppressive tyranny in Europe. Jean de vecoer opens by painting a picture of sorrow and oppression in the lives of the immigrants. Jean de ? vecoer uses negative connotation in the first half of his piece by putting in phrases like “wretch”, “pinching penury”, “punishment”, and repetition of the word “poor” to show how the immigrants lives were a horrible, dirty, miserable existence.
They lived below poverty with dogs and fleas, eating rotten bread that the rich didn’t think good enough to give to their dogs. These negative connotations support his rhetorical question: “Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves… call England or any other kingdom his country? ” (290). No immigrant who has been treated in such a horrid manner would take such oppression anymore. They would instead listen and cling to tales of a far off country where all people are treated as equals and no one is oppressed.
Jean devecoer starts to transition from sorrow to joy to justify the emigration. In Europe the poor immigrants, “were useless plants… mowed down by want, hunger, and war. But now with the power of transplantation… they have taken root and flourished! ” (290). Europe is just an infertile garden of hate and war but now that a more bountiful garden (America) has been discovered the immigrants can be “transplanted” and flourish and grow to their fullest potential fed by the new hopes, dreams, and opportunities that are appearing to them.
Jean devecoer reinforces his point by posing the question: “What attachment can a poor European emigrant have for a country where he had nothing? ” (290). An immigrant can’t hope to have any loyalty to a country that has shown him disrespect from the moment he was born, a country that has spat in his face while he begged on the side of the road for a scrap of food, a country that has pushed him in to the mud and trodden on him. He instead must embrace a country that has new opportunities for him, a country where he is respected, and a country where he can get what he has always wanted to have, respect.
To conclude his letter Jean devecoer shows how America is so much better for the immigrants than Europe. Jean devecoer uses positive diction like, “fat and frolicsome”, “regenerate”, “prosperity”, and repetition of the word “new”. These words create a feeling of well being and prosperity as opposed to the diction in the first part, which suggest feelings of sorrow and pain. Jean devecoer uses symbolism when he states, “individuals of all nations being melted into a new race of men” (291).
This classic symbolism of people “melting” together helps to strengthen the idea that these poor immigrants came together to form a strong nation. Jean devecoer talks about how the immigrants are treated as equals, laborers get rewarded equally for the work they do, and how wives and children who once begged for bread now are, “fat and frolicsome, and gladly help to clear their fathers fields” (291). The melting pot metaphor and the use of contrasting diction to show how these people’s lives have gone from begging on the streets and never owning land to being fat and having bountiful fields.
When this piece was published in 1782 it showed the people of America how inspirational it was to have come from Europe as weak, oppressed peasants to become strong equal citizens in America. Today, this piece shows the people of America that what they take for granted everyday wasn’t and isn’t available to people of other countries. They should never forget that their strong nation was formed by weak immigrants who overcame so much to get their rights and freedoms.
Michel – Guillaume Jean devecoer wrote this piece with the pride and honor of having been the very same, oppressed people he wrote about. He used every device necessary to get his point across; helped along by his emotions he pinpointed the very essence of what makes an American an American. A will to strive for better things, a never ceasing resilience, and the diversity that makes this country so great. Americans are not so much the melting pot but a stew of all sorts with each person adding there own little POW and ZING to the mix.
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