In Paul Revere's Ride, how does Fischer's portrayal of Paul Revere (the man) show the importance of his place in history as not just a national "myth?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride, the author avoids portraying Revere as a man of mythological proportions, but presents instead someone on a mission of deep political and military significance.

Perhaps this is easier given that the tale is not told in verse: Longfellow's famous portrayal of Revere's ride would essentially fail to create a serious tone of the event because of its rhyme and rhythm. Poetry, by nature, can often be musical to the ear. In Longfellow's poem, the intent is to not just report the event but to excite the reader. Revere stands prepared to serve his country:

I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country folk to be up and to arm.

Then the poet intentionally creates a sense of excitement:

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door...

The imagery of "startled pigeons" and "trembling ladder" do the same.

Revere, as he impatiently waits and watches, is portrayed like a "superhero"—though remember that this is what heroes were made of in those days, not men in tights with capes and masks...

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns...

Revere takes off and the use of figurative language creates a magical or supernatural sense of the man and his intent:

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet...

Longfellow's poem cannot help but capture the imagination with its descriptive phrases.

However, Fischer describes a flesh-and-blood individual, a hero but not a "superhero," giving the reader a more realistic measure of the man. Here Revere is a mere mortal who risked his safety to warn the colonials of a British invasion. He is not only brave, but surely a man whose feet are steeped in the reality of the moment: in the political and military implications of the task before him. Fischer presents Revere as a figure whose actions defined what has become American history. Fischer does not present Revere as one who is invincible, but a "common" man who was uncommon in his patriotism—his belief in the integrity of struggle in which he and his countrymen were engaged. Revere was known for producing beautiful pieces of silver, copper and brass for the well-to-do of Boston.

He was unusual among the storied characters of the Revolutionary period in being, and maintaining his role as, an artisan, a maker of things, whose practical skill at getting things done most resembles perhaps that of Benjamin Franklin, the onetime printer.

The man was something of a contradiction in that while he seemed simply a merchant, he was, as one historian notes...

...a distinctive individual of strong character and vibrant personality.

Fischer also uses the "aristocratic" Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage as a foil to Revere. Gage never comes to understand the tenacity of the Bostonians he is supposed to "govern;" they are single-minded in their purpose. He sees them as "weak, argumentative, and divided," an enormous mistake on his part. Gage is described as "snobbish and misinformed."

In these ways, Fischer allows Revere to exist not as a storybook character, but a hero in his own right: a real man who made a profound contribution in turning the tide against the British in colonial America.