Ecofeminism/Depiction of Native Americans in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s “Hope Leslie”

So my direction is not entirely nailed down yet. After we did the section on Ecofeminism, I knew that I definitely wanted to write my paper on something regarding it. When I was doing light researching into where exactly I wanted to go with it, I came across Hope Leslie: Early Time in the Massachusetts. I’ve started reading it already (because I didn’t want to commit to it without being certain it would provide a good basis) and while there is a good amount of ecofeminist ideas in it there is also quite a bit of interesting material regarding the Native Americans. Ideally I’d be able to use both but I’m not sure I have the space with how relatively short our papers are.

Much like Farnham’s writing, Sedgwick’s absolutely shows the involvement of women in establishing the so-called “unconquered” land, but I’m not sure it has quite enough material for me to write an entire paper on how that also relates to nature. On the side of the depiction of Native Americans there definitely is a lot more material. Unlike a lot of the texts we read in class, Sedgwick doesn’t depict Native Americans as being either savages or decoration, but as actual people with their own personalities.

In either case what I’d really like to do is compare the depiction of both (or either) women and Native Americans in this text to the depictions in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. While Cooper’s text was published only a year before Sedgwick’s it has awful depictions of both women and Native Americans.

Some of my questions to make this more specific are:

1. As nature is often feminized and women are depicted as being closer to nature, does the fact that Sedgwick is a woman lead her to have greater sympathy towards an accurate representation of Native Americans, who are also frequently viewed as being closer to nature?

2. Who was the primary audience of each of these authors and how does that have a bearing on their depictions of both women and Native Americans? Did either of these texts then have any influence on how those audiences viewed Native Americans?

3. While Sedgwick’s depiction is absolutely better than Cooper’s, in what way does her text still rely on problematic stereotypes?

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by rebsheppard on October 27, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Although you said your direction isn’t entirely nailed down yet, I think you are really on track with your idea of making a comparative analysis of the depiction of women and Native Americans in the text(s) you mentioned. This is, of course, just my opinion, but if it’s not too difficult, I think that adding that extra layer of comparison to your research (that would be comparing women and Indians as well) would really add depth and substance to your paper. Good topic ideas.

  2. While you are comparing women and Native Americans, have you considered comparing Native American women and “American Women?” I would also add the Diary of Lewis and Clark expedition in the specific scene of Sacajawea. My favorite question is the first one. Women and Native Americans were constantly being portrayed in negative ways. If you take my recommendation of adding the Diary of Lewis and Clark expeditions I would also ask

    4) How is Sacajawea, being both a Native American and a woman and a leader portrayed in the eyes of Lewis and Clark.

  3. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I agree with the post above about considering comparing the Native American women to the American Women would help your argument. The question I favored the most was “2. Who was the primary audience of each of these authors and how does that have a bearing on their depictions of both women and Native Americans? Did either of these texts then have any influence on how those audiences viewed Native Americans?” I think a incorporating the feminism writing of Judith Plant would also help your paper. Also does it matter that the narrators are a man and a woman?

  4. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Interesting selection of “Hope Leslie” but you haven’t seemed to narrow down another work in class we have discussed so, I do like the second commenters pick of Lewis and Clark or you could do William Appes’ Son of the Forest and (5) discuss how each author presented views of Native Americans that aren’t stereotypical or are their depiction of Indians similar at all? You could also compare the male’s depiction of Native American’s versus the female’s depiction.

  5. I think this a great topic and i think you could definitely work the two in together. There is text called Orientalism by Edward Said and one of the main points he makes it the feminization of orientals. I dont think he specifically includes Native Americans, but I also dont think it would be a stretch for you to do that!! This being said i like your first question, and i would build on it to ask
    4. Are native americans feminized in Hope Leslie and does Sedgicks being a woman contribute to this?

  6. I think you definitely have a great idea going here I would definitely look into also using some of the other texts that we spoke of in class that speak to native americans being closer to nature like people have mentioned above.

    I liked your first question

    1. As nature is often feminized and women are depicted as being closer to nature, does the fact that Sedgwick is a woman lead her to have greater sympathy towards an accurate representation of Native Americans, who are also frequently viewed as being closer to nature?

    But also I found it a bit problematic, because although women are considered to be in a closer relation to nature, are they being portrayed in the same way Native Americans are (who are considered simple, and without the capabilities to progress in a white civilization)?

  7. Posted by christys21 on October 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I thought your first question was rather captivating. It is interesting to consider whether women, who are seen as belonging to the home and being nothing more than caretakes, would lament with the mis-represented Indians.

    Is this author trying to prove a point, as a woman, by assuring correct interpretation of the indians is done. WIll her audience deem her unbiased, considering she is a woman?

  8. Posted by yribaf on October 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I think you have chosen a great topic, and I agree with the above comments as well. I would like to add maybe you should consider using the Ecological Indian stereotype in your paper to compare with the texts you have chosen. I strongly agree with the above post about your first question being problematic because Native Americans and women are not portrayed in the same light. Native Americans are often portrayed as part of the scenery such as in Catlin’s text. They are also depicted as savages by many European writers, whereas women are portrayed as cut off from nature in many texts unless a man brings them into the wilderness.

    Anthropologists say what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our culture, so another question I feel you should consider is:

    1. Are Native Americans portrayed as having culture and complex societies in the texts you have chosen?

  9. Posted by bharta1 on October 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Your third question is really good. It seems like most issues, simply identifying them in order to dispel them, continues to perpetuate them. What can be done about it? Nothing maybe. However, exploring a woman writer at the time of Cooper is a good idea. As someone striving for equality or maybe just better living conditions what kind of tactics does she use? Can she put others down to get ahead and so on…?

    A good question to ask could be how do Native American tribes that are matrilineal view nature?

  10. I also liked your third question; an examination of the use of stereotypes (or lack thereof) could prove useful in comparing the texts. Although I have not read Hope Leslie, I took a quick look at the Wikipedia article on it, so I don’t know how informed the rest of my comment will be. The wiki article indicated that the novel deals with conflict between Native Americans and a Puritan community. If that’s the case, it might be interesting to work religion into your argument, something like:
    How does each author present the religious or spiritual beliefs of the Native American and settler communities? How do these belief systems affect the way Native Americans and/or women are portrayed?

  11. Tying this to current sustainability movements, the gender populations in this field are extremely biased. There are more women doing this work than men. But why? Connecting this with your topic, I think that the ecological indian trope is a pervasive one, comparable to the maternal woman. While I think both of these stereotypes are possible, maybe a good question to ask is why these ideas are propagated?

  12. You are right that you’re taking on too much in this paper. Women + Native Americans + nature + Cooper is way too much, especially since you also have to incorporate outside research. And Hope Leslie is a long novel, so there’s plenty to talk about. I suggest either writing an ecofeminist analysis of Hope Leslie OR an analysis of the differing depictions of Native Americans and their relation to nature in one or both texts.

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