Indian-hating in American literature, 1682-1857
Osborne, Stephen D., 1958-
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The New England Puritans set out to "irradiate an Indian wilderness," but rightly feared they were being "Indianized" as well. Their Indian captivity narratives, ostensibly celebrations of passive submission to the will of God, in fact represent the violent incorporation of the "wilderness" and its human components into the female body as well as the typological model of history based on the cosmic drama of God's war with Satan. The Puritan mode of understanding "the Indian" and legitimizing his destruction was to persist tenaciously despite vast changes in social and political structures within both white and Native American cultures. By the nineteenth century, the theology of Indian-hating had given way to the metaphysics of Indian-hating, as History replaced Providence as the ruling force in human activity. In both cases, "history" was used ahistorically, as a means of demonstrating static racial "natures" rather than critically penetrating a process of intercultural conflict and mutual acculturation. During the years of Indian Removal in the 1830's, male literary nationalists turned to the history of white-Indian war in order to wrest "American" literature from Europeans and women. The Indian achieved his full ideological force within the intersecting hierarchies of race, class, and gender, as the historical romancers portrayed a peculiar lower-class chivalry of Indian-hating. Thoreau, seeking an original presence in the American landscape, continually encounters the trace of Indianness, forcing him to read the "runes" of Nature through the mediation of a local history of cultural conflict. Melville uses conventional emplotments of white-Indian relations to parody romantic historiography and satirize Jacksonian market society. Cotton Mather had lamented, "O how our people do Indianize"; Melville shows that the treacherous Indian has become the devilish white confidence man. By reading The Confidence-Man in light of John Marshall's 1831 opinion in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, one can see how Indian "testimony" has been stricken from the proceedings of law as well as history. Modern commentary on the novel reveals a Cold War allegory suggesting that red-white conflict has become political as well as racial.
- English