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The Half-Blood

The Half-Blood: A Cultural Symbol in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction

William J. Scheick
Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: 1
Pages: 128
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j1d8
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    The Half-Blood
    Book Description:

    The half-blood -- half Indian, half white -- is a frequent figure in the popular fiction of nineteenth-century America, for he (or sometimes she) served to symbolize many of the conflicting cultural values with which American society was then wrestling. In literature, as in real life the half-blood was a product of the frontier, embodying the conflict between wilderness and civilization that haunted and stirred the American imagination. What was his identity? Was he indeed "half Indian, half white, and half devil" -- or a bright link between the races from which would emerge a new American prototype?

    In this important first study of the fictional half-blood, William J. Scheick examines works ranging from the enormously popular "dime novels" and the short fiction of such writers as Bret Harte to the more sophisticated works of Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, and others. He discovers that ambivalence characterized nearly all who wrote of the half-blood. Some writers found racial mixing abhorrent, while others saw more benign possibilities. The use of a "half-blood in spirit" -- a character of untainted blood who joined the virtues of the two races in his manner of life -- was one ingenious literary strategy adopted by a number of writers, Scheick also compares the literary portrayal of the half-blood with the nineteenth-century view of the mulatto.

    This pioneering examination of an important symbol in popular literature of the last century opens up a previously unexplored repository of attitudes toward American civilization. An important book for all those concerned with the course of American culture and literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4993-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Twilight Hybrid
    (pp. 1-18)

    Nineteenth-century American attitudes toward the mixed-blood Indian reflect what Edwin Fussell described as a characteristic national ambivalence toward the western frontier in general.¹ More specifically, nineteenth-century discussions of the half-blood reveal unresolved conflicts related to, yet in important respects different from, those centered upon the Indian. Roy Harvey Pearce has cogently demon-strated that the Indian was depicted during this time as morally inferior to the white race and, simultaneously, as ennobled by the simplicity and naturalness of his wilderness existence. Pearce convincingly argues that literary portraits of the Indian provided, finally, only a vehicle for comprehending and justifying the unrelenting...

  5. 2 Mother Blonay’s Curse
    (pp. 19-33)

    The southern reaction to the half-blood, because on the whole it is so polarized, provides a convenient background against which other regional responses can be delineated. In the South, it should be recalled, contact with Indians and trouble over land rights were more extensive than in the North during the early nineteenth century. This fact may have contributed to southern portraits of the mixed blood Indian as a malignity nonpareil, as a physically and morally grotesque creature antithetical to white civilization. Although some range is achieved, especially by writers in the Southwest, southern accounts tend to conform to Englishman James...

  6. 3 Symbolic American Prototype
    (pp. 34-67)

    A few writers from the northeastern and middle-eastern United States expressed views similar to the southern and southwestern reaction to the mixed, blood Indian. Timothy Flint, who peripherally registers his disapproval of miscegenation in a novel entitledFrancis Berrian(1826), epitomizes this group when, as we saw in the first chapter, he deplores in hisRecollectionsthe “unnatural” interbreeding between the two races and, at the same time, defames the French in particular for their alleged affinity for Indian mates. Flint, it should be remembered, had asserted that Indian features integrate with white characteristics less well than do those of...

  7. 4 Merely Yokoto Stain
    (pp. 68-81)

    Several of John Neal’s contemporary eastern novelists apparently felt more comfortable substituting the figurative half-blood, a half, blood in spirit or temperament, for the literal mixed-blood Indian.¹ This strategy permitted writers to escape an often artistically fatal conflict which tended to emerge in works treating half-bloods, because it afforded them the best of two worlds. Unlike the literal mixed-blood Indian—the dubious spawn of miscegenation and the uncertain amalgamation of the best and worst features of his dual heritage—the figurative half, blood was a pure white who evinced the virtues of both the noble savage and civilization; frequently he...

  8. 5 Frontier Robin Hood
    (pp. 82-90)

    The half-blood, as we have seen, objectifies in his very being the conflict between the red and white races, and his portrayal in nineteenth-century American fiction emanates from uncertainty as to his malign or benign relation to white society and to its concern with New World promise.

    In the fiction of the South, (e.g., Simms’sThe Partisan,Howard’sThe Black Gauntlet), he often stereotypically represents an evil force, a dubious, unnatural species engendered by abhorrent miscegenation and threatening the purity and the preservation of white civilization. This pattern reappears in the fiction of the Old and New Southwest (e.g., Steele’s...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 91-106)
  10. Index
    (pp. 107-113)