1. Native Americans in A Son of the Forest

Native Americans in A Son of the Forest are depicted in an unusual manner. The text itself is the autobiography of a Native American, but he was taken in by white settlers at an early age to be a slave. The white settlers made William fear his brethren by telling him biased stories about the ongoing conflicts between the settlers and the Native Americans. The picture William paints of his life experiences is that of a Native American that has lost touch with his culture and becomes acculturated to a society that looks down upon his people, enslaves them, and beats them. William even goes so far in his life as to completely disregard his tribe’s beliefs and feels that they should convert to Christianity because he believed that Jesus was the savior of all people and that Native Americans were one of the lost tribes of Israel. The problem of alcoholism in Native American communities is portrayed by his grandparents who are violent alcoholics. The way William represents himself and his people is in a greater light than that of how Europeans depict his people since he still heavily blames the white settlers for the problems within Native American communities. Even though he blames the white settlers for what has happened to his people, he still considers Christianity to be, in a sense, the true religion. William seems very lost in a world he loathes, but yet still finds small slivers of comfort in. He portrays his people as if they are human beings instead of savages, but his writing also depicts how the arrival of the white settlers has slowly eroded the identity of William and his people. Native Americans are portrayed as a people who are slowly dying from within.

The ecological Indian stereotype is “the Indian in nature who understands the systemic consequences of his actions, feels deep sympathy with all living things, and takes steps to conserve so that earth’s harmonies are never imbalanced and resources never in doubt” (Garrard, 121). William doesn’t seem too concerned with his people’s traditional way of life, nor does he really fit into the stereotype of an ecological Indian. He is more concerned with being forgiven for his sinful ways and seems to constantly be in emotional and mental suffering for whatever sins he thinks he has committed. He doesn’t seem to know how to survive very long in the wilderness as evidenced by his reaction to becoming entangled in branches and trapped in a mire, “I raised my heart in humble prayer and supplication to the father of mercies, and behold he stretched forth his hand and delivered me from this place of danger” (Apess, 42). He fears the wilderness more than he finds it his home, so I doubt he holds many of the stereotypical Indian beliefs at his heart. His relationship to nature has been severed, though he sometimes goes home to see family, he never goes into detail about his time there which leads me to believe that he is completely disconnected from his people. His tribe’s relation to nature seems to still be strong from what I can tell from the text, but William himself is the poster child for the beginning of the destruction of an entire people’s way of life.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004. 121. Print.

Apes, William. “Ch. 8.” A Son of the Forest. New York: University of Massachusetts, 1831. 42. Print.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kbudd on September 29, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Apess depicts Native Americans based on his personal journey. Since he was treated as an indentured servant for the majority of his life and he is separated from his family contributes to the disassociation of himself and nature. This separation, in large part, is due to the what white settlers inserted into Native American communities. Alcoholism destroyed many tribes, and Apess felt this personally. Not only did his grandparents suffer, but he did as well. This definitely plays a large part into why he separates himself from his culture. Yes, he does refer to himself as a “Native” or “Indian” throughout the book, but he does not do well when he is alone in nature.

  2. I strongly agree with the first part of your post. Apess’ text is the story of a man caught between two worlds, neither of which seems to want him and in neither does he feel at home. I agree with your point that Apess is concerned with converting other Native Americans to Christianity, and that Christianity has aided him in his personal conflicts; however, when he makes reference to Native Americans as retaining “the original complexion of our common father, Adam” (34), I believe this is less an argument for conversion of Native Americans and more an argument against the degradation of Native Americans by Euro-Americans. By asserting that the Indian were descended from on of the Ten Lost Tribes, he is attempting to undo years of assertions that Native Americans are racially inferior to the white man.
    I also agree with your second point that Apess does not fit the stereotype of the “ecological Indian,” but I think his relationship with nature is a little more complex than fear. While staying with a country farmer, Apess undertakes an excursion into the wilderness, and describes what he sees by saying, “It had a most beautiful and romantic appearance, and I could not but admire the wisdom of God in the order, regularity, and beauty of creation” (33). Thus, while he recognizes the danger inherent in nature, it is also a place where he feels strong spiritual enlightenment and a close kinship with God.

    Apess, William. A Son of the Forest and Other Writings.Amherst:University ofMassachusetts Press, 1997. Print.

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