Apess’s depiction of Native Americans

William Apess’s autobiography depicts Native Americans in a much different way than we have seen in other texts. Apess is unusual because his father was half Native American and his mother was a full-blooded Pequot. It would have made sense for him to grow up with his tribe but due to his parents divorce, he was sent to live with his grandparents. His grandparents represent Apess’s feelings towards alcohol because they beat him and his siblings when they drank. Even though they beat him brutally and broke his arm in three places, he doesn’t place full blame on them. He blames the white man for introducing the Native Americans to alcohol and corrupting them. Apess sympathizes with his tribe because of how the white men treated them and stole their lands but doesn’t seem to hold resentment towards the white people he was sent to live with while growing up. The only society he feels he belongs to is the Church. Much of his writing reveals his youthful interest in the Christian faith and its influence on his life. However, when he enlists in the army and goes off to war, he loses his faith. While at war it seems as if he feels like he is a part of the United States Army and fighting for his country. Upon leaving the army though he doesn’t get paid and falls back into resentment towards the white man.
Throughout the autobiography, he refers to the Native Americans as “the original complexion of our common father, Adam”. This shows how Apess feels connected to his nation and also to the religion of the white man which he adopted at a young age. By converting to the Christian faith and marrying another Native American, Apess depicts a view of Native Americans who have become part of the white society while still holding on to their identity as a culture.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Etrotta,

    Usually kids who do not grow up with their parents often have identity issues. In this case, William Apess, was both White and Native American and was raised by his abusive grandparents. To make matters worse, Apess moved around and was sold as if he were property from family to family. Apess came from two different cultures that often clashed; especially when it came to cases about equality, land ownership, and religion. Native Americans are usually portrayed in books and films as beings eco- friendly, uneducated, and are often referred to as “Savages”. However, Apess portrays Native Americans as independent people. Apess gives off the impression that he distances himself from his white culture.Apess constantly refers to White people as “Whites.” Just by establishing that there is a different name for people with a different color of skin already creates a barrier. Even though it was the “white man” who introduced alcohol to Native Americans, in the end of the day the choice came down to them. Apess justified the bad actions of Native Americans like his grandparents because of a tool Whites introduced. I agree with you when you said “The only society he feels he belongs to is the Church.” White missionaries often acknowledge Native Americans so that they can be converted. However, in Apess’ eyes they are hypocrites! However, when Methodists preached “natives were melted down into tenderness and love, and they became as kind and obliging as any people could be” (Apiss 180). What differentiates the Methodists from the Christians is that Christians converted with the purpose of gaining something in return of taking the Native American’s property. Going back to his identity, Apess seemed to have assimilated a little bit when receiving some education, joining the army, trying to receive the Preachers certificate, and working for his money. Towards the end of his autobiography I feel as if Apess tries to forgive those who have done him wrong and try to look at his fellow brothers and sister in Christ without Prejudice.

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

  2. I agree that Apess’s text is very different from the other readings we have done in class, because it gives an in depth look into his life as a Native American. His experience with the woes of alcohol is very impactful, because many know about the alcoholism being common among Native Americans but here is a real account of its effects. Surprisingly, Apess does not blame his grandparents for their cruel treatment or the condition of his tribe, but he chooses to blame the white settlers for unfairly trading alcohol for land. Apess’s religious connection also makes his text different as he goes through his ups and downs of being a good christian in all of his life situations. One of the main purposes of this text I believe is to encourage others by telling readers all that he has been through and how God has brought him through all his struggles. Also, to encourage others that no matter how low they start off in life that they can make something of themselves since he started off being rescued from his abusive grandparents as a young child, to working for numberous men, to being cheated of his awards in the army, having a family, and then becoming a minister.

  3. Posted by bhough on September 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    While I do agree with your comments about Apess’ views of natives being different than what we have seen in previous readings, I do not think he was as well adjusted to his two “separate” identities as you depict. Throughout the text, Apess aims to please the white audiences he is writing for- the best example of this can be seen in the fact that Apess deleted almost all of the religious commentary and Methodist criticism from the second publishing of his work. By doing so, his work becomes more “appropriate” for white audiences; it also, however, takes away the truthfulness of his accounts. While I believe Apess wanted to write this autobiography to make a comment about how native americans were being treated, I also think he was afraid to make any statements that would be considered too bold.

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