A Critical Evaluation of the Play “Our American Cousin”

Our American Cousin is a fascinating play written by Tom Taylor in early 1852. As an Englishman, Taylor had always been fascinated by the United States and its ideals. It was a queer land unlike anything he had ever witnessed before, with coarse individuals bearing unique demeanors. Taylor’s aim was to craft a masterpiece that would place individuals from both worlds in the same play to expose the absurdity of striving to reconcile them. Taylor also divided the play into three acts since he viewed this as the most ideal structure to present such narrative. In addition to this, Taylor was also obsessed with a true representation of the differences that exist between the English and their American cousins. Asa Trenchard is the main character and an embodiment of the typical blunt American. Although awkward, he is always honest and strives to express his opinions explicitly at any given moment. He travels to England to meet his aristocrat relatives and make necessary arrangements that would see him inherit a large portion of the family estate. Its popularity soared during the 19th century and was the last play watched by President Abraham Lincoln before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth (Bogar, 2013, p. 55). It is, therefore, fundamental to assess the motivations behind this masterpieces, major differences highlighted and significance of the play.

            Act I begins at Trenchard Manor. The servants are busy discussing their employer’s financial status. Florence Trenchard is in the drawing room contemplating the direction she foresees for her life. She is obsessed with the idea of marrying her lover, Lieutenant Harry Vernon although there are a number of impediments to her plans. She can only marry Vernon once he progresses in rank, which is now a cause of great angst. To pass the time, she reads letters from her brother in America who has come across some of their countryside cousins. One of them, Asa, is already on his way to England from Vermont to claim an estate left behind by their great uncle. Sir Edward Trenchard contacts Richard Doyle for a true assessment of his financial status but is informed that marriage to Florence would help solve this problem. Act II begins with conversation by Mrs. Mountchessington. She is residing at Trenchard Manor with her two daughters and tries her bets to advise them on matters of marriage. Asa soon meets his cousin Mary and falls in love with her despite her social status. Act III begins with Asa’s stories about America. He describes their grandfather’s habits in detail and how he disinherited his English children. Asa is honest about his intentions and proposes to Mary. Coyle is also forced to resign as the steward of Trenchard Manor for his underhand methods.

            It is important to note that Asa Tranchard is viewed as a savior by most of the characters he encounters. He is an honest Yankee who stands by the truth at all times and strives to maintain his good mature at all times. At the same time, he acknowledges that England is quite different from America and endeavors transform the crumbling English aristocracy. Even though he is rough and scruffy at times, he is dedicated to the cause and often seeks to ensure that everyone lives a comfortable life devoid of stress. For instance, he dedicates his time and money towards saving a Hampshire baronet from fiscal ruin and Mr. Coyle’s coy machinations (Taylor, 2018). He also proposes to Mary, a distant relative who also happens to be a dairymaid, and expresses his intentions to marry her and start a life with her. The playwright uses Asa to mock the English class system that has been the bane of many for centuries. Contrary to what many would expect of a high-born fellow, Asa proposes to Mary without any reservations and views her simply as a striking human being. He is less involved in matters of societal hierarchy but seeks his own pursuit of happiness, a hallmark of American life.

                Our American Cousin also expresses a certain degree of obsession with the American way of life. This is because the two countries had taken divergent paths after the end of the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Taylor was keen on these differences and made sure that he presented them in his work albeit in a subtle way. For instance, he prefers to use “guess” throughout the poem, which is the American equivalent of the British term “suppose” (Taylor, 2018). Taylor also explored the importance of respecting individuals regardless of their background. He firmly believed that an individual’s background or position in the societal hierarchy did not influence their moral barometer. Asa served as the best example of this proposition. Although a typical American, he still had strong sense of morality that allowed him to point out injustices whenever he saw them. Asa is not preoccupied with the culture clash that many are acutely aware of but the honor inherent in each individual.

            In conclusion, Our American Cousin is one of the most fascinating plays ever written. It explores the vicissitudes of life for individuals from different cultures and how stereotypes are eventually formed. However, Asa is the embodiment of truth and expresses his morality wherever he goes. He stands as a reminder of the importance of having a better understanding of individuals and their moral standing as opposed to judging them using a warped system of perceived “faults”.

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