Writing About Indians
James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok (1824)
Zitkala-Sa [aka Gertrude Simmons Bonnin], "Impressions of an Indian Childhood" (1900)
- These writings by Cooper, Child, and Zitkala-Sa provide a glimpse of the ways in which Americans have written about Indians. James Fenimore Cooper's selections from The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Lydia Maria Child's selections from Hobomok (1824) illustrate the trends at the beginning of the nineteenth century, while Zitkala-Sa's memoir from "Impressions of an Indian Childhood" (1900) came along much later.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) What are the characteristics which identify these stories as a genre? What are the types of characters which appear in these stories? What do they represent?
- 2) One of the most important aspects of the Western is the way in which Westerns as a genre reflect (and challenge) the founding story of the American nation. What is so "American" about the Western story genre? What values do they reflect? What internal struggles do they bury or alleviate and which do they accentuate in favor of establishing a more cohesive and hegemonic national identity?
- 3) How do these stories comment on the following issues: interracial marriage; the nature of "civilization"; the meaning of "American"; the place of the "English" in the United States; the attractions of non-Indian culture for Indians?
- 5) What are the Frontier landscapes represented in these stories? Are they different from those which you have seen represented in John Ford's Western films? Do they share any characteristics with those later, mythic Western vistas? Who is larger in these stories, the landscapes or the people on them? Who is in the landscape and who is simply on it?
- 6) Richard Slotkin argues that central to the myth of the frontier is the maintenance of borders. What kind of borders are drawn and maintained in these stories? How are they represented? Who crosses them and why?
Further resources and readings:
- On Cooper:
- James Fenimore Cooper Society, featuring Occasional Papers.
- The University of Virginia's critical commentary on Cooper's treatment of Indians.
- On Lydia Maria Child:
- Jean Fagan Yellin's Thoughts About Teaching Child at the Heath Anthology's site.
- Brief Biography via Britannica Online.
- The Virginia Crossroads Project Romancing the Indiansite.
- On Zitkala-Sa:
- Images of Zitkala-Sa, with information about Zitkala-Sa and photographer Gertrude Käsebier.
- Hoefel, Roseanne. "Zitkala-Sa: A Biography." The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings. Ed.
Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted: Winter 1999. http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/gcarr/19cUSWW/ZS/rh.html
- General Resources:
- The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
- Frank Terry (Superintendant of US Boarding School For Crow Indians, Montana), "Naming the Indians," American Monthly Review of Reviews 15 (Mar. 1897): 301-307.
- Simon Pokagon, "Simon Pokagon on Naming the Indians," American Monthly Review of Reviews 16 (Sept. 1897): 320-321.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for Honors 502 (American Frontiers and Borderlands), Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: Saturday, 19 August 2000.