Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Savagism and Civilization

Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind

ROY HARVEY PEARCE
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppsg6
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Savagism and Civilization
    Book Description:

    First published in 1953, revised in 1964, and presented here with a new foreword by Arnold Krupat and new postscript by the author, Roy Harvey Pearce'sSavagism and Civilizationis a classic in the genre of history of ideas. Examining the political pamphlets, missionaries' reports, anthropologists' accounts, and the drama, poetry, and novels of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Professor Pearce traces the conflict between the idea of the noble savage and the will to Christianize the heathen and appropriate their land, which ended with the near extermination of Native American culure.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90867-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword:
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Arnold Krupat

    The reissue of Roy Harvey Pearce’sSavagism and Civilizationcomes at an especially propitious moment, one in which there is a renewed interest in cultural criticism attentive to discursive and ideological issues. Indeed, it is probably not too much to say that Pearce’s book has played some real part in keeping the possibility of such criticism alive in America.

    For whenSavagismfirst appeared (in 1953, asThe Savages of America: A Study of the Indian and the Idea of Civilization), there was very little literary interest in broad, historical studies of ideology and discourse. By discursive studies, I mean...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
    Roy Harvey Pearce
  5. Part 1: Antecedents and Origins, 1609–1777

    • I Spirituals and Temporals: The Indian in Colonial Civilization
      (pp. 3-50)

      The renaissance Englishmen who became Americans were sustained by an idea of order. They were sure, above all, of the existence of an eternal and immutable principle which guaranteed the intelligibility of their relations to each other and to their world and thus made possible their life in society. It was a principle to be expressed in the progress and elevation of civilized men who, striving to imitate their God, would bring order to chaos. America was such a chaos, a new-found chaos. Her natural wealth was there for the taking because it was there for the ordering. So were...

  6. Part 2: The Life and Death of the American Savage, 1777–1851

    • II A Melancholy Fact: The Indian in American Life
      (pp. 53-75)

      Americans who were setting out to make a new society could find a place in it for the Indian only if he would become what they were—settled, steady, civilized. Yet somehow he would not be anything but what he was—roaming, unreliable, savage. So they concluded that they were destined to try to civilize him and, in trying, to destroy him, because he could not and would not be civilized. He was to be pitied for this, and also to be censured. Pity and censure were the price Americans would have to pay for destroying the Indian. Pity and...

    • III Character and Circumstance: The Idea of Savagism
      (pp. 76-104)

      American double-mindedness about the Indian issued rapidly into a theory of his life—an idea of savagism, as it was called. As all ideas should be, this one was for its time true. That is to say, it consisted of a set of interrelated propositions which held together and made logical sense of all that was known and felt about the Indian, and it made for understanding, belief, and action. As data about the Indian accumulated, the idea was first filled out, then modified, and finally broken through. By the time the idea could no longer contain the data—it...

    • IV The Zero of Human Society: The Idea of the Savage
      (pp. 105-134)

      The idea of the Savagism was at best an hypothesis which called for proof. Proof required first-hand observation and then close analysis, classification, and summing-up of what had been observed. Facts were collected first-hand, recorded, analysed, and conclusions come to. In the end the hypothesis was proved in fact; the savage proved savagism; a symbol bodied forth an idea.

      Yet we can look back at American studies of the Indian and see, in a century-long perspective, how the facts belie those conclusions. For we may work with hypotheses which do not press us to see primitive cultures as at once...

    • V An Impassable Gulf: The Social and Historical Image
      (pp. 135-168)

      Even as all American thinking about the Indian was based, at the very least, on an implicit comparison of savage and civilized life, a great deal of his thinking about himself was based on explicit comparison of the two. For the American before 1850—a new man, as he felt, making a new world—was obsessed to know who and what he was and where he was going, to evaluate the special society in which he lived and to know its past and its future. One means to this end was to compare himself with the Indian who, as a...

    • VI The Virtues of Nature: The Image in Drama and Poetry
      (pp. 169-195)

      The indian over whom Americans finally triumphed was he whom they put in their plays, poems, and stories. New-rich in their discovery of the possibility of a national culture, they were certain that they could find the Indian’s place in the literature into which that culture was to flower.¹ He was part of their past, they knew; and in his nature and his fate lay a clue to the meaning of their future. Yet if they would treat him imaginatively, they faced a problem for the solution of which their national experience and understanding could not wholly prepare them.

      For...

    • VII Red Gifts and White: The Image in Fiction
      (pp. 196-236)

      We cannot say why the storyteller’s image of the Indian did not take shape and meaning as did the dramatist’s and the poet’s, why novelists and writers of tales did not generally adopt themes and strategies involving the noble savage of drama and poetry. Nor can we say why they did not adopt from the captivity narrative the convention of the bloodily ignoble savage. Perhaps the nineteenth-century storyteller’s professional involvement in problems of society, as opposed to the dramatist’s and poet’s in problems of sensibility and the captivity narrator’s in those of propaganda, gave him a means of avoiding the...

  7. Part 3: Afterthoughts, 1851–

    • VIII After a Century of Dishonor: The Idea of Civilization
      (pp. 239-252)

      In the 1840’s, Americans discovered that the West, to which they had consigned the Indian, itself needed the creative hand of civilization. The notion of Removal, of pushing the Indian to the Great Plains, somewhere west of the Mississippi, no longer seemed practicable; for then he would stand between Americans and Santa Fé, Oregon, and California. He had to be dealt with; his newly acquired lands had to be taken over; and still he had to be brought to civilization, or die. What eventually resulted was the Reservation system, whereby Indians were segregated and gathered together on specific pieces of...

  8. Postscript
    (pp. 253-264)

    Since its inauspicious beginning,Savagism and Civilizationappears gradually to have found its proper readership. Rejected in its beginning by two university presses, it was subsequently accepted for publication by the Johns Hopkins University Press on the condition that its title be changed (“savagism” no longer being a word in currency) and that I underwrite half its production costs. I changed the title toThe Savages of America,and the book was published in 1953. Likely the Press was right in its caution. For reviews (except two by anthropologists, another by a Mexican historian, and one by Henry Nash Smith—...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)