Paper Topic: Exploring the Ecological Indian trope in James Seaver’s A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison and William Apess’s A Son of the Forest

For my final paper, I am interested in exploring the trope of the Ecological Indian because I found it one of the more captivating topics we discussed in class. More specifically I want to look at how damaging this trope is to those who do not fit into its strict guidelines. This is seen in the narratives of William Apess (a Native American struggling to fit into white society) and Mary Jemison (a white woman who adopts the Seneca ways after being held captive by them). I think the stereotyping of races is something we will always run into and it is interesting to read the nineteenth century perspective and problems encountered. For those who don’t perfectly fit the mold of either white colonist or Native American, this trope seemed to cause some valid personal identity questioning. This is a significant topic to explore because this is a problem still seen today as Americans become more integrated and culturally diverse- people are left to wonder what constitutes their racial identity and what heritage and culture to cling to.

I first read Mary Jemison’s story my freshman year and I hope that by revisiting it three years later, I will be able to pick up on different aspects of her story and focus more on the Ecological Indian trope. I feel very familiar with the trope because of our class discussion and Garrards analysis of it. In both of my chosen narratives, I see the problems with the Ecological Indian stereotype because neither main figure (Mary Jemison or William Apess) fits into it in an ideal way (which is the inherent problem with the trope even with full Native Americans!). They both give examples of other Native Americans that seem to fit the noble or savage description but because they are both a mix of what is seen as white and Native American- they are left with little identity!

Questions I hope to Answer:

  1. How is the Ecological Indian trope portrayed in these texts? How is it proved wrong, right, and conflicting?
  2. What are the implications of showing some Native Americans that actually do seem to fit the Ecological Indian bill as brutes or Noble Savages.
  3. What kind of impact did this stereotype have on Native Americans and mixed races during the nineteenth century? What does it still mean today?
  4. What means more: your blood connection or a race or you cultural connection to a race?


13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I also find the Ecological Indian trope one of the more interesting topics. Obviously, question 1 is the most important and will take up the bulk of your paper. You could pose a question about gender since one of the Native American’s you are analyzing is female and the other is male.

    5. How has gender affected their views as Native Americans?

  2. Posted by kbudd on October 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I like the forth question you posed. I think you could build on that because and at the same time answer question 3. These questions allow themselves a lot of room for discussion.

    You could also answer:

    Did white men see the mixed races as evil for having “savage” blood, and vice versa?

  3. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    A very interesting topic and well thought out. I liked your question “3. What kind of impact did this stereotype have on Native Americans and mixed races during the nineteenth century? What does it still mean today?” A question you could add is:

    7. Is it easier to be incorporated into a Native American tribe by being male or female?

  4. I myself am a third culture kid, which can mean a weird hodgepodge of races and cultures and etc. etc.! I believe that this is becoming an increasingly important issue in America, what with this country being such a melting pot. So yes, I especially liked question #4.

    8. How is the issue of racial / cultural identification becoming an increasingly significant issue in today’s world?

  5. Posted by kwalley on October 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    This topic seems very well thought out and I think it is one that is still very relevant today. I found your second question very interesting and would expand further on that with:

    9. Is the effectiveness of the Ecological Indian in literature diminished by the presence of “savages?” How does this juxtaposition influence the stereotype of Native Americans?

  6. 3.What kind of impact did this stereotype have on Native Americans and mixed races during the nineteenth century? What does it still mean today?

    This question is important because it can be developed into a strong argument regarding the stereotypes in a specific time frame for Native Americans and mixed races. Also, the lasting implications from the stereotypes are important.

    Another question: How are stereotypes taught in history classes about Native Americans and should they be continued?

  7. Posted by christys21 on October 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    This topic is definately great in that there are so many pieces you can include in your essay. Something you may want to consider is the use of certain movies, such as Pocahontas, and the way Indians are portrayed in these movies. Through this you can analyze exactly how society has chosen to accurately, or inaccurately portray Indians.

    How are younger generations today being taught to consider indians? Issues of race and assumptions of certain races continues to happen today, and it unfortunately many times gives inaccurate “ideas” of certain people.

  8. Posted by yribaf on October 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I really like your topic because I have read Mary Jemison’s text and I think comparing a Native American who was raised by Europeans, and a European who was kidnapped by the Seneca tribe and lived out her life with them will make for quite a fascinating paper. I liked this question the most out of the four you have: What means more: your blood connection or a race or you cultural connection to a race?

    Here’s another question that might be helpful: What ideals guided Jemison and Apess through their life? Did they hold on to the culture of their people?

  9. I like your paper topic. I especially liked the third question and the exploration of mixed races.
    Another question to explore:
    13) Which identity do you think Apess relates to more? How does this affect his writing?

  10. Posted by bharta1 on October 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I love these in-betweeners, the ones that don’t fit the mold are always interesting. I like your fourth questions a lot, and in particular, on frontiers and at that time and now too, people who were either abandoned, kidnapped ostracized etc etc, what kind of value is put on actual kinship as opposed to an adopted culture and family. Good stuff.

    I would add a question such as this

    “Because both people are oppressed, women and indians, what similarites do the see in the stereotypes they identify? And if possible, why? And this could go in vice versa too, what are the disparities in the stereotypes they identify?”

  11. Posted by etrotta on October 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    The ecological indian stereotype is a great topic to write about. The most interesting question you posed was your 2nd question. You could build on that question with “Because the ecological indian stereotype is generally idealized by white writers, would that lead to the idealization of life in the wilderness as advocated by writers such as Emerson and Thoreau?”

  12. This is a really interesting topic. Both narratives are great foils for each other, as others have noted. Here’s another question to consider:

    Given their subject positions as Others, what rhetorical strategies does each author use to gain credibility with his/her audience?

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