Peter Zenger Critical Context - Essay

Tom Galt

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Galt clearly wrote Peter Zenger because freedom of the press has been an important social issue for many years. The American climate of the 1950’s, when the book was written, was a time of good or bad, with no in-between. There was a wave of hysteria over some political views when those persons who refused to declare loyalty to the American government were publicly condemned and blacklisted. Many people lost their careers and their lives by standing up for a different view, and the Cold War was taking shape. Yet the 1950’s was also a time of great patriotism in the United States. Young people were coming into their own, and their literature was attempting to shape their values—hence, the good-versus-evil theme in Peter Zenger. Zenger, although he lived in the 1700’s, could have lived in the American heartland in the 1950’s. He stood up for what he thought was right and was willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of freedom, as the United States was doing in the Korean War.

Zenger set the precedent for the free press that the United States enjoys, although at the time he had no way of realizing that his legacy would last for hundreds of years. Thus, a valuable history lesson is given in Peter Zenger: He was an individual who became only a passing footnote in history texts, but his struggle, fight, and sacrifices serve all Americans in their daily lives when they pick up a newspaper or watch a news report.