20 Pages

Introduction: Seeing America

ByChristine DeVine

Harriet Martineau's Society in America, written in 1837, represents a formalistic departure from these three works; now considered a prototype of sociological study, Martineau's text is compared more frequently to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Martineau claims, Society in America is a methodology that guarantees objectivity: it has at its base the written declarations of the American Constitution, rather than the expectations and prejudices certain to occur when one nation is measured against another. Negative criticism of America centers on the ways in which the nation has failed to realize such principles, but in her indictments of slavery and the inequality of women, Martineau's most vitriolic critiques frequently are leveled at Europe. According to Webb, Martineau is simply the antithesis of flag-waving Americans, with an equally passionate and almost equally shallow comprehension of complex political matters.