personal, school, throwback thursday, writing

Throwback Thursday: Rhetorical Analysis – John Downe’s Letter to His Wife

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


In 1830, immigration to America from Europe, and specifically England, was very common. These immigrants came, most notably, for opportunity – which was not often available to them in England. John Downe was one such immigrant, who came to America and found work, as well as relative abundance. In a letter to his wife, convincing her to bring herself and their children to America, he expounds on the qualities of America through comparison to England, in which England is found lacking, expanding on America’s relative abundance of food, and the ease of finding shelter and work, to convince her the journey would be worthwhile, emigration would be worthwhile. He also assuages her fears of the trip itself – assuring her of America’s ability to provide a better life for all of them, and the safety of the journey overseas.

John Downe convinces his wife to emigrate to America primarily by detailing its advantages. Assuring her of his work “[having] the whole management of the factory” that allows him a decent living, as example of the benefit of his coming alone beforehand. He compares prices in America to England, that “I can have 100lbs of beef to 10s English money” – exceedingly cheap when compared to prices and poverty in England. In America “if a man work, he need not want victuals” – he has found work with ease, and can continue to work – something not guaranteed in England, here, he can provide for his family. She need not worry for herself or their children that their hopes of America would be unfounded – he has confirmed it to be everything they could have dreamed.

Downe also assuages any of her fears of the journey overseas itself – the physical toll of emigration. That there is “plenty of room yet” for immigrants to come – opportunity would not disappear from influx. That he regrets leaving her and the children behind – but it is worth it to be able to provide for her and the children, showing his sincerity in asking her to follow him. He assures her that he “will be able to keep her in credit” – she need not worry of the finances of the journey all on her own across the sea, and the journey across the Atlantic will have “a few inconveniences” but “will not be long”. He assures her she will enjoy America, that it is what is best for the children, that they “need not want” for anything again here. He appeals that “America is not like England” that “poverty is unknown here. You see no beggars”, a far cry better than their lives in England with “nothing but poverty before [them]”.

America affords new opportunity for work and an escape from poverty for immigrants. In 1830, this was a common goal of emigration, and abundance of both food and work made it possible for many, as well as the passage overseas becoming easier and safer with each passing year. This is how John Downe convinces his wife to join him in emigrating to America: a better life for her and their children – who would never want again.

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