Depiction of Native Americans in A Son of the Forest


In his autobiographical text, A Son of the Forest, William Apess demonstrates that all of the poor characteristics that are attributed to Native American’s can actually be attributed to the white settlers who manipulated them. He seems to argue that the Native Americans are even superior to these white settlers in some aspects. This point of view and the opinions Apess expresses are starkly different from the other Euro-American writers we have seen who often describe Native Americans as, at best, beautiful savages who are altogether completely different from Euro-Americans and not understood. Perhaps this lack of understanding stems from the fact that many Euro-Americans at the time saw these seemingly unconquered lands as “[their] native lands” and failed to consider how their actions impacted anyone or anything around them (Irving 8). Apess counters this notion, stating “the natives… are the only people under heaven who have a just title [to call themselves natives]” (Apess 10). The inability of the white settlers to recognize Native Americans as true natives and respect them as such plays out negatively for the Native Americans in A Son of the Forest.

This negative impact is particularly seen in the Native American’s relationship with alcohol. As Apess describes the “introduction of this ‘cursed stuff’ into [his own Native American family]” we see the deterioration of both his relationship with his grandparents and their marriage (Apess 5). When first reading over the horrendous treatment he received from his Native American family, it seems that Apess has strong negative feelings about his brethren compared to his white relations who “lived  and died happy in the love of God” (Apess 6). However, upon further reading it is realized that he actually blames white settlers for the Native American’s faults with alcohol as they “seduced them into a love of it” and then manipulated them out of their land (Apess 7).  Apess further critiques the white settlers when later in the autobiography his companions try to convince him to steal but, without surprise, it was “not [his] brethren but [the] whites” trying to corrupt him into doing evil (Apess 35).

It was interesting to read into this perspective because Apess often had conflicting feelings about his lineage but on the whole he seemed to have a positive view of Native Americans that differed vastly from most of the texts we have studied.


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

Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 3-9, 30-34, 39-46, 50-54, 171-179. pub. University of Oklahoma Press 1956

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