Posts Tagged ‘Apess’

Paper Topic: Media Representations of Native Americans as Children in Catlin, Apess, Disney’s Peter Pan

For my final paper, I intend to look into the portrayal of Native Americans as children both in 19th century readings (Apess, Catlin) and more contemporary media (“What Makes the Red Man Red?” from Disney’s Peter Pan; I plan on finding others as well but have had some trouble with my off campus library access today!). In all of these works, natives are portrayed as lesser beings than their white counterparts, but in a sense that it is not “their fault” because they are ignorant, naïve, and unruly, just like children. Apess is especially interesting when delving into this topic because he comes from a “white” upbringing, but still feels a connection towards his Native American brethren.

The crux of this issue is that, in the 19th century works at least, the authors are attempting to further the image of Natives to the American society by using the “child” argument to give excuses for the natives’ differences. I would like to look into how natives are portrayed in the more recent media, and whether or not this twisted “charity” aspect is present, or if it has just become the norm to display natives as lesser beings.  Finally, I will look into implications this has on the current Native American community both in the 19th century and today.


The link to the Peter Pan clip I plan on using:


  1. Do Apess and Catlin realize their rhetorical strategies regarding Native Americans in fact do more harm than good?
  2. What impact did this childish portrayal have on the Native American community in the 19th century? More recently?
  3. Have there been any attempts by Native American groups (or others) to dissuade audiences from believing this portrayal?
  4. How have the childish portrayals, and motives for such a portrayal, shifted from the 19th century to now? What implications does this have?

***If anyone has ideas for more recent media portrayals regarding natives, I would especially love that feedback!


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.