Author: Michael Chevalier
Publisher: Weeks, Jordan and Company in Boston, 1839
Michael Chevalier was a French engineer and free market liberal who made various observations during his trip to the United States. Sent by the French to inspect American institutions, Chevalier reflects on his trip through various letters which touch upon American prisons, the banking industry, railroads, factories, democracy and religion.
We specifically analyzed Letter XI titled “Lowell” and Letter XII titled “The Factory Girls of Lowell”. Chevalier structures these letters by setting up a descriptive introduction to the town of Lowell. Literary journalism’s unit of construction is scene and thus Chevalier implements this quality by using the town of Lowell as a “poster child” to display his observations of the American lifestyle.
Chevalier set the scene of Lowell for his audience with details of every observation he could recollect. For example, when first introducing the town of Lowell he states, “It is a pile of huge factories, each five, six, or seven stories high, and capped with a little white belfry, which strongly contrasts with the red masonry of the building, and is distinctly projected on the dark hills in the horizon” (128). Chevalier provides descriptive language which denotes size, color, and location. These are all elements that bring success in his literary journalism.
Moving to Letter XII: “The Factory Girls of Lowell”, Chevalier’s language becomes even more sophisticated as he brings the steam-engine to life . For example, he writes, “Is there any thing which gives a higher idea of the power of man, than the steam-engine under the form in which it is applied to produce motion on railroads? It is more than a machine, it is almost a living being; it moves, it runs like a courser at the top of his speed; more than this, it breathes; the steam which issues at regular periods from the pipes, and is condensed into a white cloud, resembles the quick breathing of a racehorse” (135).
Chevalier’s desire to understand what makes America so great is displayed through these descriptive details of a locomotive engine. He firmly believes that the machine will liberate the people as evident when he says, “A steam-engine has a complete respiratory apparatus, which acts like our own by expansion and compression it wants only a system of circulation to live” (135).
Lastly, Chevalier displays control of a pertinent element of literary journalism: comparison. He compares American and English culture to French culture. For example, he writes, “The manners of the English race are totally different from those of us French; all their habits and all their notions wholly unlike ours” (138).
His greatest comparison that he makes among these cultures is their different religious practices: “The Protestant education, much more than our Catholic discipline, draws round each individual a line over which it is difficult to step” (138). He digs deeper into these religious differences by discussing the meaning behind the day of Sunday. He writes, “In regard to Sunday, which with us is a holiday, a day of amusement and gaiety, it is here a day of retirement, meditation, silence and prayer” (142).
Overall, these two readings that we analyzed display that Chevalier was a sophisticated literary journalist who focused on the depth of his observations in America through his example of the town of Lowell, sophisticated and detailed metaphors, and most importantly, the element of comparison.