Nothing tugs on American heartstrings more than an image of a
suffering child. Anna Mae Duane goes back to the nation's violent
beginnings to examine how the ideal of childhood in early America
was fundamental to forging concepts of ethnicity, race, and gender.
Duane argues that children had long been used to symbolize
subservience, but in the New World those old associations took on
more meaning. Drawing on a wide range of early American writing,
she explores how the figure of a suffering child accrued political
weight as the work of infantilization connected the child to Native
Americans, slaves, and women.
In the making of the young nation, the figure of the child emerged
as a vital conceptual tool for coming to terms with the effects of
cultural and colonial violence, and with time childhood became
freighted with associations of vulnerability, suffering, and
victimhood. As Duane looks at how ideas about the child and
childhood were manipulated by the colonizers and the colonized
alike, she reveals a powerful line of colonizing logic in which
dependence and vulnerability are assigned great emotional weight.
When early Americans sought to make sense of intercultural
contact-and the conflict that often resulted-they used the figure
of the child to help displace their own fear of lost control and
Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology
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