What are the themes of Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper?
There are several critical themes articulated in Paul Johnson's Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper.
Johnson relates how Sam Patch grew up in the mill town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, exploring his early start spinning cotton in a mill as a child laborer. Patch's father (Mayo Greenleaf Patch) lost his business as an artisanal shoemaker. These events emphasize several reoccurring themes: the rise of wage labor and the demise of land-holding, as well as the ways in which masculinity and patriarchy were changing and being undermined because of these changes. These matters, of course, were all a product of the larger historical context/theme at hand: the rapid industrialization of America.
Patch's jumps themselves are a reflection of theme of recreation for the working class, as he repurposed the waterfalls he jumped off of for his own entertainment. This, of course, is only what Patch could afford to do as a member of the working class; the middle class viewed this type of behavior as distasteful and a violation of the natural sublime and their place of leisure.
We also cannot deny that there is a thematic element of the self-made celebrity here, with Patch serving as the first true American daredevil who operated off constant self-promotion.