American Notes When Charles Dickens Term Paper


In American Notes, he describes two New York Irish laborers with their long-tailed blue coats and bright buttons, and says in Chapter VI, "It would be hard to keep your model republics going without the countrymen and countrywomen of those two laborers. For who else would dig, and delve, and drudge, and do domestic work, and make canals and roads, and execute great lines of Internal Improvement?" The way that the Americans treat the slaves, Indians and immigrants is totally abhorrent to Dickens, but it is not the only aspect of America that he criticizes in American Notes. He also highly disapproves of Americans' personality, cockiness, huge egos, failure to respect other people's privacy, horrible manners as gulping down their food, chewing and spitting tobacco, disrespect for individual integrity and being overbearing personalities.

Overall, of great concern to Dickens is the way this new country was established and what it would become. He had come to America expecting perfection, and sees a country still attempting to work out its identity. He is afraid for its future and what it would become. Selfishness, crassness, and hoggishness, he suggests, are America's real institutions, what governs business, politics, and all of human relationships. He is angry about the Americans' bad manners because they are inconsistent with the democratic principle, which should guarantee equal rights for all. On the other hand, he criticizes those individuals who have blind patriotism for their country and give no thought to any other views.

As Crew (43) notes, page after page of American Notes details the dangers of civil disorder in high places, unthinking acceptance of public brutality, lectures about culture without significant efforts to support a culture. Stated Dickens in his introduction:

My readers have opportunities of judging for themselves whether the influences and tendencies which I distrusted in...


They can examine for themselves whether there has been anything in the public career of that country since, at home or abroad, which suggests that those influences and tendencies really did exist.
When literary advisory John Forster wrote Dickens' biography, he alluded that perhaps American Notes should not have been written. Truthfully, it has not been known as one of Dickens' best works. He rarely goes into much depth in the book and often rambles on. It is not easy and enjoyable reading. By today's standards, it lacks the footnotes and index to the chapters. However, the book is what he says it would be: Just a record of the impressions he received day-to-day while hurrying through America and sometimes the conclusions to which they led him.

Despite its drawbacks, it is useful to read American Notes a century and a-half later to see how the America of today compares to the America in 1840. Unfortunately, in some respects, the same problems that Dickens saw as undemocratic or "UnAmerican" still exist today, such as racism, blind patriotism, and overblown egos in government and business. In American Notes, Dickens was showing people of all nations that a country is not great just because they say it is. Americans have to be able to look at themselves and laugh at their comical ways of behaving and they have to look seriously at the ways that they need yet to improve their country to be what they believe it is.

Sources Used in Documents:


Crew, Louie. Charles Dickens as a Critic of the United States. Midwest Quarterly 16.1 (1974: 42-50.

Dickens, Charles. American Notes. 24 February, 2008.

Moss, Sidney. Charles Dickens' Quarrel with America. Troy, NY: Whitson, 1984.

Rupert, Everett H. The Life of Charles Dickens, and Favorite Stories. Books, Inc.: New

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