The Demon of the Continent

The Demon of the Continent: Indians and the Shaping of American Literature

Joshua David Bellin
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 280
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    The Demon of the Continent
    Book Description:

    In recent years, the study and teaching of Native American oral and written art have flourished. During the same period, there has been a growing recognition among historians, anthropologists, and ethnohistorians that Indians must be seen not as the voiceless, nameless, faceless Other but as people who had a powerful impact on the historical development of the United States. Literary critics, however, have continued to overlook Indians as determinants of American-rather than specifically Native American-literature. The notion that the presence of Indian peoples shaped American literature as a whole remains unexplored. In The Demon of the Continent, Joshua David Bellin probes the complex interrelationships among Native American and Euro-American cultures and literatures from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. He asserts that cultural contact is at the heart of American literature. For Bellin, previous studies of Indians in American literature have focused largely on the images Euro-American writers constructed of indigenous peoples, and have thereby only perpetuated those images. Unlike authors of those earlier studies, Bellin refuses to reduce Indians to static antagonists or fodder for a Euro-American imagination. Drawing on works such as Henry David Thoreau's Walden, William Apess' A Son of the Forest, and little known works such as colonial Indian conversion narratives, he explores the ways in which these texts reflect and shape the intercultural world from which they arose. In doing so, Bellin reaches surprising conclusions: that Walden addresses economic clashes and partnerships between Indians and whites; that William Bartram's Travels encodes competing and interpenetrating systems of Indian and white landholding; that Catherine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie enacts the antebellum drama of Indian conversion; that James Fenimore Cooper and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow struggled with Indian authors such as George Copway and David Cusick for physical, ideological, and literary control of the nation. The Demon of the Continent proves Indians to be actors in the dynamic processes in which America and its literature are inescapably embedded. Shifting the focus from textual images to the sites of material, ideological, linguistic, and aesthetic interaction between peoples, Bellin reenvisions American literature as the product of contact, conflict, accommodation, and interchange.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0122-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1923, when the scholarly study of American literature was in its early stages, D. H. Lawrence perceived at the heart of the literature a conflict between the savage spirit of the land and the civilized texts that sought to quell it. “Up till now,” Lawrence writes, “the unexpressed spirit of America has worked covertly in the American, the white American soul.” But “within the present generation,” he prophesies, “the surviving Red Indians are due to merge in the great white swamp,” and a change will come about: “A curious thing about the Spirit of Place is the fact that...

  4. Chapter One Indian Conversions
    (pp. 14-38)

    In 1850, Henry A. S. Dearborn, mayor of Roxbury, Massachusetts, proposed a monument to John Eliot, the seventeenth-century “Apostle” to the neighboring Indians. The monument was to be an elaborate affair: “A Corinthian column, surmounted by a Funereal Urn. . . . Whole height, forty-two feet. The fence is supported by Doric columns . . . the pales alternate Crosses and Arrows, as emblematical of Eliot’s Christian office, and of the Indians for whom it was assumed. On the front side of the pedestal of the column, a basso-relievo of an open folio Bible, exhibiting the title page of Eliot’s...

  5. Chapter Two The Charm of the Indian
    (pp. 39-70)

    Consider two early accounts of the Indians of New England. The first, from Cotton Mather’s life of John Eliot (1702), is a complete derogation of Indian life: “These doleful creatures are the veriest ruines of mankind. . . . These abject creatures live in a country full of mines . . . but our shiftless Indians were never owners of so much as a knife till we come among them.... They live in a country full of the best ship-timber under heaven: but never saw a ship till some came from Europe. . . . No arts are understood among...

  6. Chapter Three Radical Faiths
    (pp. 71-97)

    When, in 1805, Jacob Cram of the Massachusetts Missionary Society approached the Seneca Indians living on the Buffalo Creek reservation, he stepped into a spiritual battle that had raged across the continent for centuries. Cram’s contribution began modestly enough; zealous if a bit plodding, he offered a conciliatory gesture to lull the antimissionary sentiment that had intensified since the Reservation era: “I have not come to get your lands or your money, but to enlighten your minds.” His heart, however, was not in this ceremonial introduction; eager to broach his real business, he continued: “There is but one religion, and...

  7. Interlude
    (pp. 98-105)

    “What do our anniversaries commemorate but white men’s exploits?” Thoreau asked rhetorically in his journal. “For Indian deeds there must be an Indian memory—the white man will remember his own only.” Whether he was troubled by this or not, Thoreau was certain that Indian history neither could nor would have a place in American history. “Our Indian races having reared no monuments,” Hawthorne mused similarly, “when they have disappeared from the earth, their history will appear a fable, and they misty phantoms.”¹ Unrecorded by whites and unrecordable by Indians, their deeds, their very existence, would fade—so the story...

  8. Chapter Four Stories of the Land
    (pp. 106-130)

    One of the earliest European recordings of an Indian story occurs in Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588). Scientist of the 1585 Roanoke expedition and an ethnographer the Columbian mode, Harriot defines the Indians by lack: “They are a people poore, and for want of skill and iudgement in the knowledge and of our things, doe esteeme our trifles before thinges of greater value.... And by howe much they vpon due consideration shall finde our manner of knowledges and craftes to exceede theirs in perfection, and speed for doing execution, by...

  9. Chapter Five Mind out of Time
    (pp. 131-153)

    In 1800, naturalist Joseph-Marie Dégerando lectured at the Paris meeting the Société des Observateurs de l’Homme on the topic “Considerations on the Various Methods to Follow in the Observation of Savage Peoples.” Conscious of the moment at the dawn of a new century, the featured speaker was not content to pitch a mere field guide to explorers and commercial venturers; rather, he set out to define a science yet to be named: anthropology. “The Science of Man,” he begins, “is a natural science, a science of observation, the most noble of all.” Believing that opportunities for observation have been squandered...

  10. Chapter Six Myth and the State
    (pp. 154-182)

    A generation after its war for national independence, America’s war for literary independence was waged. Having laid to rest its colonial past, the nation, wrote patriots like Henry Schoolcraft, wanted a literature to contest the tyranny of British letters: “It is time, in the course of our national developments, that we begin to produce something characteristic of the land that gave us birth. No people can bear a true nationality, which does not exfoliate, as it were, from its bosom, something that expreses the peculiarities of its own soil and climate. . . . And where! when we survey the...

  11. Chapter Seven Traditional Histories
    (pp. 183-207)

    In 1856, while filling up his Indian Books, the logs he kept during the last fifteen years of his life, Henry David Thoreau came across a pamphlet entitled Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, written in 1827 or 1828 by a Tuscarora Indian, David Cusick. “Almost entirely fabulous St puerile,” Thoreau commented, “only valuable as showing how an Ind. writes history!” and, he added on second thought, “perhaps for some dim on the whole interesting and suggestive traditions.” Thoreau’s emphatic, befuddled reaction indicates, perhaps, his surprise at discovering not only how “an Ind. writes history,” but that an...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 208-210)

    Reflecting on the allure of Native American studies to non-Indian scholars, Angela Cavender Wilson paints a highly unflattering portrait of those who do offer themselves as authorities on things Amerindian: “American Indian history is a field dominated by white, male historians who rarely ask or care what the Indians they study have to say about their work. Under the guise of academic freedom they have maintained their comfortable chairs in archives across the country.... Very few have attempted to find out how Native people would interpret, analyze, or question the documents they confront, nor have they asked if the Native...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-258)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-272)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 273-274)