Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

A homespun product, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is as native to its time and place as the granite ledges and sugar orchards of New England. Daniel Pierce Thompson, lawyer, editor, and judge, had spent his boyhood on a farm near Montpelier, Vermont, and his knowledge of frontier life was as extensive as Cooper’s. A writer by accident rather than by choice, he presented in his half dozen novels a romantic yet truthful record of the early history of his state.

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Of his books, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is the best and the most popular. Printed first on a small newspaper press, it ran through more than fifty editions by 1860. Because the story deals with Ethan Allen and the struggle of his Green Mountain Boys for liberty, the book has become the classic novel of Vermont. Thompson never strayed too far from facts or local scenery. In this novel, Captain Warrington is Seth Warner under a fictional disguise made necessary by the plot. Selden and Captain Hendee are also recognizable as real persons. Mrs. Story, Munroe, Skene, Reed, McIntosh, Benedict Arnold, and Ethan Allen appear under their own names, familiar figures in the early annals of the state.

Thompson celebrates the independence of the early settlers of Vermont. His historical romance is very much a folk epic, complete with larger-than-life characters, humorous peasant types, and a series of loosely connected adventures that dramatize the birth of a regional consciousness. If at times the plotting seems too contrived, readers must remember that the principal purpose of the book is not to tell a story but to embody the spirit of a group. In its humble and often sentimental way, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is a rural ILIAD: like Homer’s heroes, Warrington (Seth Warner) and Ethan Allen outwit and outfight their lordly enemies.

Although the story alludes to the national struggle of the American Revolution and places its heroes in the service of the American cause, Thompson was not concerned primarily with the Revolution itself. In his introduction, he stresses the heroic independence of the few thousand Vermont settlers who successfully repelled the efforts of land grabbers from New York, a province possessing perhaps fifty times the population and resources of Vermont. The Green Mountain Boys form their defensive forces against New York, not Great Britain. It so happens that the New York authorities identify largely with the Tory cause when war breaks out. It was fortunate for the budding United States that the Green Mountain Boys turned out to be on its side.

Because it honors the rights of the little man, the independent yeoman, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS occupies an important and early place in the egalitarian tradition at the heart of the American novel, a tradition that includes HUCKLEBERRY FINN and THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

The most stirring moment of Thompson’s work is Ethan Allen’s plea to the Vermonters to join him in the attack against the British at Ticonderoga. He convinces them of the justice of the cause by reminding them that the prize of the struggle will be Vermont’s representation in a National Congress, where she will forever have the support of the entire United States against the predatory claims of her old enemy, New York.

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