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 [. . .].
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!"
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