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Dr. Tarbox Annotations Smulders, Susan. “’The Only Good Indian’: History, Race, and Representation in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.”

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Presentation on theme: "Dr. Tarbox Annotations Smulders, Susan. “’The Only Good Indian’: History, Race, and Representation in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.”"— Presentation transcript:

1 Dr. Tarbox Annotations Smulders, Susan. “’The Only Good Indian’: History, Race, and Representation in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 27.4 (2002): Web.

2 “Wilder not only sums up her feelings of loss and grief, despair and rage, but also projects the violence of her emotions onto another” (1)

3 Thus, despite its seeming authenticity, Little House on the Prairie ultimately denies the real experience of aboriginal Americans in order to validate the assimilation[G1] of the American landscape to the civilizing project of frontier settlement. (1) [G1] [G1]The word assimilate means to fit in or to become like something else – here, Smulders means that Wilder’s desire to make the American frontier seem in need of civilizing by European settlers led her to alter the actual experiences of the Native Americans to fit Wilder’s version of the truth. [G1]The word assimilate means to fit in or to become like something else – here, Smulders means that Wilder’s desire to make the American frontier seem in need of civilizing by European settlers led her to alter the actual experiences of the Native Americans to fit Wilder’s version of the truth.[G1]

4 Not immune to the power of the Indian as image, Wilder also shapes her representation of natives to a particular set of aesthetic and ideological objectives[G2]. Not immune to the power of the Indian as image, Wilder also shapes her representation of natives to a particular set of aesthetic and ideological objectives[G2]. [G2] [G2]Smulders means that Wilder developed her Osage characters to conform to the ways that other writers had portrayed them (aesthetic objectives) and to the ideas that she wanted to put forward (regarding self- reliance and the supposed superior nature of European-Americans). [G2]

5 Because the eight volumes, conceived as a single work, link the development of Laura's character to the development of the frontier, they create a parallel between "the individual's moral growth from obedience to autonomy" and "the American polity's growth from subjection to democracy" Because the eight volumes, conceived as a single work, link the development of Laura's character to the development of the frontier, they create a parallel between "the individual's moral growth from obedience to autonomy" and "the American polity's growth from subjection to democracy" (2).

6 Devoted to a view of the frontier as the site of nascent democratic principles, Wilder's project [End Page 191] thus inevitably inclines toward myth which has, as Anita Clair Fellman [G3] notes, a "tendency...to distill and simplify and deny history" (103). Devoted to a view of the frontier as the site of nascent democratic principles, Wilder's project [End Page 191] thus inevitably inclines toward myth which has, as Anita Clair Fellman [G3] notes, a "tendency...to distill and simplify and deny history" (103). [G3] [G3]Yay! We’re reading an article that cites an article that we’ve already read. The more that you read on a topic, the more this happens…until you end up becoming an expert. [G3]

7 Framing the novel in this manner, Wilder suggests both the hope of a new beginning and the frustration of a false start. In so doing, she shapes her lived experience to the priorities of literary experience. (2)

8 “At the same time, they rely upon the myth of the un-American Indian that Wilder enables to authorize her vision of western expansionism in Little House on the Prairie. this myth situates natives, understood as Indians, in opposition to settlers and farmers, understood as Americans” (3).

9 “the myth of the un-American Indian gave moral authority to such practical expediencies as the forced relocation of native peoples, the expropriation of their lands, and the detribalization of their cultures; for these actions quite simply, if quite brutally, facilitated "the 'Americanization' of the Indian" (Berkhofer 136)[G4].” (3) (Berkhofer 136)[G4] [G4]Notice how Smulders quotes Berkhofer at great deal – this act underscores his authority as an expert on the American Indian in literature. If you were writing a paper on this subject, you would want to look at his books as part of your research.

10 “scholars have generally failed to recognize the extent to which Wilder's commitment to settlement culture implicates her within the structure of frontier racism that she uncovers within her work” (3).

11 “Committed to celebrating the westward progress of American civilization in Little House on the Prairie, Wilder could not confront the illegality of frontier settlement nor her family's culpability in driving the Osage from their land in Kansas. To protect the myth of pioneering enterprise, Wilder therefore diverts responsibility for conflict away from the squatters and toward impersonal government forces” (4).

12 IMPORTANT! “But although these revisions and omissions suggest that, in Little House on the Prairie, Wilder molds her experience of the historical frontier to suit the needs of the mythological frontier, she also subjects the assumptions governing the westering movement to critical scrutiny[G5]” (4).[G5] [G5]This point is important. Smulders suggests that Wilder’s views on Native Americans were complex. That in some ways, she inserts Laura’s questions into the novel in order to imply that there might be something wrong with how the Ingalls are viewing the Osage Indians.[G5]

13 G5 Continued Smulders goes on to argue that it is possible for an author to question something but ultimately decide not drop those questions. The rest of this article is designed to show the two-step process by which Wilder repeatedly called her family’s behavior into question and then ends up validating that behavior. In this way, Smulders is showing her readers a new way to look at Wilders’ novel – she is practicing what literary critics do.

14 Ann Romines suggests that Laura's repeated questions, turning on where and when she will see a papoose, allow Wilder herself "to propose some of the hardest and most persistent questions for an emigrant nation— questions of possible cultural interaction, cultural collision, and a potentially multicultural life" (4).

15 “Whereas the naivete of the child hero allows the adult author to indict the racism of frontier America, ironically, the very ethnocentricity of the novel ultimately ensures that its analysis of settlement culture and its depiction of native peoples partake of similar prejudices” (4).

16 "papoose" is not unlike the misnomer "Indian": a white ideological construct delimiting the native as deficient, generic, and static (Berkhofer 2526; ). (4-5)(Berkhofer 2526; ) “as other” [G6] (5).[G6] [G6]The labeling of someone as different or “other” is an act that implies that the speaker feels that his or her subject position is the norm and that anything that differs from it is “the other.” It is a negative way of viewing difference. By having Laura classify the Osage Indians as being akin to animals dehumanizes them.

17 enculturation[G7] (6).[G7] [G7]To enculturate is to be initiated into the practices and values of a culture. Smulders means that there is a relationship between women’s violent statements about Native Americans and their way of being brought up to believe that their appropriate female role is to “civilize” or “domesticate” the frontier.

18 patriarchal[G8] (6).[G8] [G8]The word “patriarchy” refers to a system in which men have the power and authority over women. A “patriarchal imperative” refers to an idea that men deem to be important.

19 marginalize[G9] (6)[G9] [G9]To marginalize something is to diminish its importance.

20 “Despite [G10] Laura's attraction to the undomesticated life of the prairie, the series gradually forces her to embrace whiteness (whether in women, sugar, or flour) as a sign of refinement and to reject brownness as its antithesis” (6). [G10] [G1][G1]This represents another important piece of Smulders’ argument. Here is where she begins to show how Wilder – despite her willingness to let the character Laura question her culture’s ideas about American Indians – ends up having her character embrace whiteness as the only acceptable way of being. In contrast, anything that is not white is deemed undesireable.

21 “Wilder tends to distance the Ingalls family from the worst manifestations of frontier racism. Consequently, the fullest expression of Indian-hating in Little House on the Prairie comes not from Ma but from a garrulous neighbor, Mrs. Scott” (6-7).

22 “By interrupting Laura and so preempting her questions about the anger of the dispossessed, Pa resembles the Great White Father of United States Indian policy, for he [End Page 195] invokes his authority to affirm the compulsory pacification of aboriginal peoples through the expropriation of their lands” (8).

23 “At the same time, Wilder's inscriptions of rage and anger as "naturally" Indian project the settlers' racial prejudice onto its object and so lend a lack of conviction to her effort, already much compromised, to acknowledge the legitimacy of native grievances on the frontier” (8).

24 “Attempting to provide a full picture of frontier life, Wilder presents Indians as both good and bad” (8). “Indeed, in these three symmetrically-constructed scenes, Wilder nearly exhausts the catalogue of virtues and vices in Berkhofer's discussion of the stereotyped Indian[G11]” (8-9).[G11] [G11]Read this section carefully, as it sums up three of the scenes that we will talk about in depth in our next class. Be sure to look up any of the words that you don’t know from Berkhofer’s definitions.

25 Laura does eventually "confront and recognize the humanity of the Indians" (9).

26 “In other words, by representing the intrusions of natives into the little house as violations of settled space, Wilder faithfully reproduces pioneering perceptions but conveniently ignores the illegality of the Ingallses' residence in Indian Territory. Severely circumscribed by the limitations of her own point of view, her construction of the Indian as bad occludes an awareness of both the sovereignty of aboriginal land and the collectivism of aboriginal custom” (10).

27 2 nd Scene “Seeking also to validate the alternative image of the good Indian, Wilder interposes the visit of the tall stranger, later identified as Soldat du Chêne, between the intrusions of bad Indians” (10).

28 “she naturalizes the Osage removal, compares it to other inescapable losses, such as that of childhood, and thereby makes it "emotionally quite bearable“” (11).

29 “Wilder constructs their exodus as an event more theatrical than historical. As a consequence, her exploitation of the removal results in the aestheticization of a tragedy that claimed, within ten years, the lives of more than two-thirds of the approximately four thousand people displaced by the 1870 treaty[G12]” (11).[G12] [G12]What Smulders means here is that Wilder turns the true story of the horrible deaths of the Osage Indians into something less specific to serve her own purposes.

30 “when Laura says, "I wish I was an Indian and didn't have to wear clothes," Ma's reprimand— "Laura!... And on Sunday !" (218; emphasis added)—implies that this desire is offensive on religious as well as racial grounds. At the same time, while Laura's desire to be Indian—a desire that is not uttered aloud in Little House on the Prairie—reveals her antipathy to the strictures of settlement culture, the desire to possess the Indian child, whose "black eyes looked deep into Laura's eyes" (308), bespeaks her absorption of this same culture's racist imperatives” (11).

31 transgressive[G13] (11)[G13] [G13]To transgress is to “go against” a belief or a behavior. By viewing the Osage baby as something that can be taken from its parents means that Laura does not conceive of the baby or its parents as having the same kind of bonds that she and her parents have. To “objectify” someone is to deny their real personhood in favor of one’s own view of them as being less than human. Later, Laura will experience the fear of having her own child taken by a neighbor – this incident may have brought home for her the way that the Osage mother would have felt had she been forced to give up her child.

32 The very fact that Laura felt that the Osage baby COULD be taken underscores that she has internalized the debasement of Osage Indians that was held to be acceptable by her family and by most European-American immigrants to the West.

33 “She thus cries not for the Osage but for herself. Having been indoctrinated into the expansionist ideology of the frontier, she fails to comprehend the Osage child as a person with innate human rights. Wilder perhaps alludes to this failure when she refrains from using "papoose," a "word freed from what it defines" (Bosmajian 57), to describe the baby and so emphasizes the reality of the child over the idea of "it.“” (12).(Bosmajian 57)

34 jouissance[G14] (12).[G14] [G14]Here, Smulders means that Laura’s encounter with the Osage people is shown not to end with their mutual understanding and enjoyment of each other, but with her frustration at being unable to take and then to control the Osage baby – in other words to act out physically on the baby the behavior of the adult European-American immigrants upon the Osage population.

35 “In other words, the mature Laura's commitment to domesticity and its duties involves an utter rejection of those immature desires reified as Indian. Wilder underscores this transformation of character through two scenes of "reversal" (Campbell 121 n. 23)[G15]” (12). (Campbell 121 n. 23)[G15] [G1][G1]Again, this is an important set of examples that show how Wilder reverses whatever small connection she may have had with the Osage people.

36 “Functioning as an epilogue to the Little House series, The First Four Years offers a final emphatic rejection [End Page 199] of the Indian and his appeal” (13).


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