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Longfellow's Unique American Hero In Evangeline

1577 words - 7 pages

Longfellow's Unique American hero in Evangeline

 
    Abstract: Longfellow's portrayal of the American Adam is set apart in that he does not praise this character as a role model for others. The concept of the American Adam is seen in a different light through the depiction of Basil in the narrative poem Evangeline.

 

R.W.B. Lewis explores the quest of the writers of the American Renaissance to

create a literature that is uniquely American in his 1955 text, The American

Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. This is

accomplished through the image of "the authentic American as a figure of heroic

innocence and vast ...view middle of the document...

  Friendless, homeless, hopeless, they wandered from city to city [. . .].

  (38-39)

 

These lines reveal that the Acadians represent a people forced to start their

lives anew in a land that is completely foreign to them. They have no past to go

back to because the soldiers that enforced their removal have burned the

village. This sets the scene for a depiction of Basil as the American Adam in

that "life and history" are "just beginning" for him (Lewis 5). The coastal

Louisiana region is mostly unclaimed and uncultivated when he arrives there,

giving him a blank slate upon which to project the life of his dreams. He must

"confront" this new world "with the aid of his own unique and inherent

resources" (Lewis 5).

 

Another important characteristic in defining the American Adam is that of his

innocence. The changing religious views of the period in which these highly

regarded literary figures were writing prompted an evolution in the portrayal of

Adam (Reynolds 15). Those striving to create this new hero discard the notion of

the world's first man as burdened with original sin (Lewis 28). Basil's

character is not banished to an unknown land as a result of some sin he has

committed or carried from the beginning of time. It is rather the result of a

British invasion of his beloved homeland. When it is announced that the Acadians

are to leave Grand Pre immediately, Basil responds irrationally as the other

villagers are scattering:

 

  Flushed was his face and distorted with passion; and wildly he shouted,

  "Down with the tyrants of England! We never have sworn them allegiance!

  Death to these foreign soldiers, who seize on our homes and our harvests!"

  (Longfellow 27)

 

Shortly after this announcement, he is beaten by one of the soldiers. He does

not consider that there may be consequences to his actions. Basil's behavior in

this situation is rather childlike and, as such, is representative of his

innocent point of view.

 

The primary task of the new Adam is to create a world in which to live (Lewis

50). He must draw on whatever resources are available to accomplish this task. 

Basil's success in establishing a home and securing a comfortable living is seen

when he appears for the first time after the exile. His visitors are "marveled

to see the wealth of the cidevant blacksmith, / All his domains and his herds,

and his patriarchal demeanor" (Longfellow 54). Basil arrives in this world with

nothing and manages to build a life "that is better perchance than the old one"

(Longfellow 55). His son, Gabriel, "has left him alone" with "his herds and" his

"horses" (Longfellow 53). The only remaining member of Basil's family is now

also removed from his life leaving him completely isolated from his past. This

is a...

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