Alexander Hamilton is an example of how anyone, from anywhere, can make a new name for themselves.
The first words of the production are:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
No matter how many times I listen to the soundtrack, these first words cut right to my heart as I consider the situation that Hamilton came from. Among his childhood trials are the abandonment of his father, the death of his mother and suicide of his cousin, providing for himself at a young age, and a hurricane that rips through his town, which becomes a metaphor for his adulthood trials near the end of the story. But perhaps not the circumstances themselves, but the idea that his circumstances would somehow become his identity is what strikes me so deeply.
At the end of the opening song, Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton makes clear that although he comes from this pitiful background, it does not define him. He says:
There’s a million things I haven’t done; just you wait.
This says very clearly to me that Hamilton believed that the circumstances don’t define the man. In response to Burr’s comments that he is a bastard, orphan, and whore’s son, Hamilton simply seems to say, I am Alexander Hamilton, and neither you nor my circumstances can define me–only my actions will.
Although he does keep the details of his past personal (even hiding them from his future sister-in-law), throughout the musical, Hamilton reflects on his past and uses that as a motivation to always look for the next opportunity. His wife, Eliza, constantly reminds him to “look around” and appreciate “how lucky [he] is to be alive right now.” His counter-perspective to her words causes some conflict in his marriage, but his perspective motivates him to always look for the next thing he can do to improve his situation. Perhaps in part out of a sense of responsibility, in part out of gratitude for what he has, and in part out of pride, Hamilton never stops looking for his opportunity to Rise Up.
A lyric that finds place in the beginning, as well as the end of the musical is:
In New York you can be a new man.
Until now, I have only commented on how Hamilton was faced with difficult situations during his life. Well, as Aaron Burr states, Hamilton did go from all that to become a hero, a scholar, and a founding father. None of his trials would have meant a thing if he hadn’t overcome them in the way he did. And even more valuable that what he did, is what he became. As is portrayed in the musical, Hamilton makes many a mistake along his path, but he learns valuable lessons and makes honorable decisions as he grows. Even in his last moments, Hamilton shows, by his actions, the character of a man who values honor, life, and love.
On a related note regarding circumstance, Lin Manuel Miranda emphasized Hamilton’s status as an immigrant through well-placed lyrics throughout the musical. From his nostalgia of being “a kid in the Caribbean” in Rise Up, to his immigrant pride in Yorktown, and even Miranda’s decision to include John Adams’s insult of “Creole Bastard” in The Adams Administration, Miranda makes clear that Hamilton was an outsider who had made his way into not only the country but the founding of the United States of America.
The lyrics of Rise Up capture what inspires me most about Hamilton’s perspective on his own potential. He said:
When they tell my story, I am either going to die on the battlefield or rise up.
I think this speaks highly of the effort and sacrifice Alexander was willing to put forth in order to not only increase, but “fly above his station.” Some circumstances are truly sad, and that’s something that makes Hamilton’s story that much more significant. It is honorable, whether you fail or you lose, so long as you were a good man or woman. And in my own way, I hope I can become a new man as Hamilton did.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,