Thursday, October 20, 2011

For Credit: Female American Follow-up

Some great issues were raised in response to today's attendance question.  Feel free to respond to any of these (just make sure you specify which you're answering!) OR offer any reflections, observations, or questions that you didn't have a chance to voice in class:
1.  I think it would be interesting to discuss why Unca Jr. and her husband took all of the native's gold and sent it back to England.
2.  Why didn't the Female American have as many problems with religion/morality as Crusoe?  Most of the conflict seemed to vanish because of this...
3.  I'm wondering whether gender or race is the bigger issue for an 18th century audience.
4.  Why does Unca see when others are sinning or abusing authority, but not her?
5.  Where does this novel fit into our understanding this genre at the time period?
6.  I want to know if you are on board with bringing this into the canon or is it just useful to study one of the inessential bubbles?

Deadline: Saturday midnight (after all, we need to get started on Otranto!)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. There has been a lot of discussion about the role that imperialism plays in all of this. What is the difference, in your opinion, between leadership and imperialism? What does Unca do that pushes our view of her from being the religious leader of the island to an all-out ruler?
    Also, in response to the question about which is a greater concern in the eighteenth century, gender or race, I would have to say race. I think that her mixed race plays a large part in gaining trust from the natives; they are able to identify with her to some degree, it doesn't seem to matter that she is a women. I have also thought, however, that the author does not want to put any significant gender issues into the novel to prove that this leadership can be played out by a female. There is also a part in the text, on page 121, where Unca mentions her fear of the natives being found by the Englishmen and "being taken for slaves". I am not a history-buff, can anyone tell me if this is a fair assumption for her to make at this point, or did it stand out to anyone else?

  3. Hi, Dayna! Although I can be wrong, (SOMEONE PLEASE CORRECT ME IF SO!), but I do believe that Unca had some valid fears of the Europeans enslaving the natives and possibly invading their island. I “believe” that by this point in time, the knowledge of Spanish cruelty upon the natives, the brutality of enslavement, had circulated Europe and horrified the English. The English wanted to become as powerful as Spain, but at the same time, they resented the Spaniards for their unchristian actions and exploitation of others. Of course, as we all later know, America did eventually have slaves, and in comparison to American slavery, the Spanish colonies may have shown more humanity to mestizos (children of mixed race) where as mixed children (half slave/owner) were oftentimes raised as slaves. So, basically, yes, I do believe that she had reason to fear the exploitation of such a naive and welcoming group of Indians!

    The question between leadership and imperialism is one which is still being asked today. In this GWS class that I am taking, my whole world is seeming to be rocked. I once believed that if human rights are being trampled upon, then it is the duty of a stronger nation, a more educated nation, to be the “savior” and to educate and enlighten individuals. After about half a semester, I have begun to realize that even the most good intentioned movements, from Girl Up to rallies against FGM may simply be a means of American imperialism in a post imperialist society. The human rights that we take for-granted as inherent to all humans may actually be constructed and not innate as we are raised to believe. Leadership is power. Who are we to decide what a people need and if a people are miserable? Who are we to say that Western “freedoms” will make you a happier and more fulfilled human being? Although Unca wanted to make the Indians happy by introducing them to the real God, we also know that she had her own motives of securing their allegiance. She was alone on the island. She needed the company of others and the security of community. Who could blame her? Although her intentions may be innocent enough, the point is that she imposed her beliefs upon a people (although they accepted it most readily). Strictly according to the FA, the natives were much happier after their conversion and used their own reasoning to decide to accept Christ. Based on this novel, Christianity is good for the natives.

    However, from a critical standpoint 300 years later, did native populations truly benefit from the spread of “Christianity” and all that “Christianity” brought about (relocation, disease, death)? One of my FAVORITE quotes from the Motorcycle Diaries which I’m not 100% certain that Che Guevara actually said is this: “The Incas knew astronomy, brain surgery, mathematics among other things, but the Spanish invaders had gunpowder. What would America look like today if things had been different... How can a civilization that built this ( SHOWS MYSTIC AND INSPIRING MACHU PICCHU) be destroyed to build this (some South American city of immense poverty probably somewhere in Peru)?” If you haven’t watched it, you should. Gael Garcia Bernal is in it. He’s a hottie.

  4. GONE NATIVE: At the end of class, Professor Wilcox described how Unca's plan of awing her European rescuers backfired since she had forgotten what she might look like. As a non-white individual, her exotic looks emphasized by her now indian-goddess garb may have been too much for the Englishmen to handle. The fear of the colonizer being colonized as well is being alluded to through this passage. What do all of you think? Could Unca ever go back to England, or is this why she stays on the island as Mr. Winkfield Jr. travels back to her uncle and aunt? Has she gone native? Is there a fear of colonization bringing out the savage in otherwise civilized individual? Weren't Americans/ Englishmen of the American colonies seen as less refined than their English brothers and sisters? Could this be part of it???

  5. 6. I feel like reading the books that are a part of the 18th Century canon is essential to see what works were popular but reading some that are in the inessential bubbles does also help readers get a sense of what people read during that time. I think the best way to get a "feel" for a whole "century" is to read as much of the novels read then as we can. Like Tristram Shandy... how we discussed about it being a modern novel or not and trying to make some connections. With "The Female American" I stretched it and thought a lot about how it is similar to "Things Fall Apart." I think reading a lot just makes it easier to make connections so reading the novels in the inessential bubbles might help us read things in a different light and it just broadens our mind... if we only study the canons... it's pretty narrow.

  6. Actually, I take it back... it doesn't really relate to "Things Fall Apart"... but just the idea of imperialism... by reading "The Female American" it just shows the ideology being prevalent.

  7. As to the question of why the Female American did not have as many problems with religion and morality as Robinson Crusoe did, I think that the only reason that the protagonist of the novel could have been of a mixed race background and a woman was because of her firm roots in her faith and religion. I think that if Unca had ever questioned her religion or her faith in the fact that her situation was all in God's plan for her life, readers would have thought she was going back to her "savage" roots. Also, Robinson Crusoe only had to convert one man to Christianity, as opposed to Unca who converted an entire nation of people; in order for her to do this in a somewhat believable way, Unca's faith had in God and her religion as the superior religion had to be her most defining characteristic.

    For the question about bringing The Female American into the cannon, I feel that it is so close to the storyline of Robinson Crusoe that it would not add anything different to the novels from the 18th century that are typically taught or read. However, I think that reading and studying some of the "inessential bubbles" from a given era is useful to gain a better understanding of the popular culture (but whether it is The Female American or another novel makes no difference).

  8. Is race or gender more important in C18? What a great question. It's a complicated question, because identities are fluid and multi-faceted and contingent.

    If you are socializing in London high society, hanging out with an all-white crowd, then the homogenous society makes race a non-issue, and gender becomes the most important difference among people.

    If you are in a gender-homogenous environment then gender becomes invisible and race takes prominence.

    Circumstance largely who we are relative to those around us. However, I think that race is more prominent especially in C18 England. There is an awareness and anxiety that the British Empire is built partly on slave labor. Also, race is built into the class-consciousness of the English society. Male-female bonds are so essential that they are taken for granted and come as a secondary consideration. The female may be traditionally subjugated to a male partner, but they occupy their position within society together.

  9. Wow, Kirsten. Getting serious here!

    Hotties aside, "Motorcycle Diaries," is basically "The Grapes of Wrath" in Spanish and on two wheels. It's a thinly veiled socialist diatribe, a little too preachy for me.

    Secondly, colonialist studies are complicated. Religion, and many other things like protecting rights, are often used to justify geo-political movements which also have personal interest behind them (gold, free labor, oil). Foreign policy is always about self-interest but that doesn’t nullify the fact that it can result in net gain for others also. Personal rights may be a construct, but people usually seem to like them anyway.

    Our judgments of colonial actions are really about identity. If an action threatens your identity it is bad (to you) but if an action validates your identity it is good (to you). That doesn't mean that people have to live in cultural pockets and never interact to avoid threatening others’ separate identities.

    Ultimately, we choose, on an individual level which identity we want to associate with. I always thing of boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Muhammed Ali to reflect his East-African cultural heritage...overlooking the fact that that heritage had been imposed on the Africans by the Arabs. My 202 class reviews England (the ultimate colonial force in recent memory) as a serial colony to the Romans, continental Germanic people and Danes and Norman French. Somewhere back in our history our ancestors were all colonized. What is interesting is what we choose to remember and what we choose to identify with…and why.

    Thanks for letting me reply to your post, Kirsten (like I asked!). I hope I was able to elaborate on your post respectfully! (If this were not a classroom tool I would have included a smiley face with its tongue sticking out to indicate a lighthearted tone between friends.) See you around!

  10. When talking about the importance of gender and race in the 18C I think that race is much more of an issue than gender especially in Europe. During this time in Europe we see that there have been many woman in a hierarchical role thus giving the idea of gender a minor role in the 18C when compared to racial differences. We see the British wrapped around the idea of having slaves during that time and as we all know these slaves are not just comprised of anyone. It was a way for people in high authority ranks to display their power and control over other races.

  11. I absolutely love what Jesse as said about the fluidity of race and gender, and I completely agree that identity in itself is entirely fluid. I read a study a few years ago, although I cannot recall its name or author, that discussed the ways that those of mixed race identified with a particular race and the way that is affected by social class. For example, Unca is of both Native American and European descent. The race that she decides to identify with will be determined by both her environment and her social class. She is raised in a predominantly white, upper-class environment, so, according to the study, she is more likely to identify as a White woman; however, if she were raised in a white, lower-class environment, she would be more likely to identify more with the Native American race. Even if she were raised surrounded entirely by White persons, the lower social standing would have meant that she would have more in common with those that belong to her Native American ancestry.

    I do not know how relevant this is to the discussion, but I just think it is an interesting concept that race and identity are incredibly fluid, and according to the study I read, self-identification in those of mixed race is influenced by social class more so than by actual color of their skin.

    And, on a tangent, I love how we can all agree/disagree here and we are all respectful. Jesse and Kirsten are funny.

  12. Since my second major is GWS, I have spent a lot of time discussing identity concerning gender and race. In terms of race, one of the most interesting articles I have ever read (which I can't remember the title of) discussed mixed raced peoples as being in a type of "borderlands," not part of one or the other world. Mixed raced individuals have the unusual power and curse, according to that essay, to float in between multiple cultures. I think that's what makes Unca such an interesting character. She can never truly be part of either nation for she is marked by both, yet it is her mixed race that allows her to be adventurous and exist in two different worlds. I find it so interesting that we want to place Unca's identity as being either European or native. What makes her so interesting and powerful as a character is that she cannot be identified as either.

  13. Responding to question 1, I believe that imperialism is one theme within the story that guides everything from thoughts to actions. Despite the differences Unca has from other protagonists of the time, she is still a European subject that is inherently better than the "less civilized" Indians that she comes around. Even though we see that she is a lesser part of European society, even her partial acceptance makes her better than those who have no contact with "civilization". Her necessity to teach Christianity to the natives is an example of the perceived difference between civilization and what is not. The next step (sending the gold home) is natural, since those who are not (as) civilized are not as able to use the gold effectively as those who are.

  14. I was definitely thinking about the relationship between race/gender/society while reading this novel. It's an interesting point of discussion. Even from American history, we can see how women and people of different ethnicities were treated even to today. Women didn't get the right to vote until 1919, African Americans were barely considered citizens well into the 70s. Today these biases on gender/ethnicity groups still exist, women get paid 75 cents to the dollar and racism is still strong.

    I would imagine that in that period, seeing a woman who is also of mixed race as the protagonist being a huge issue. It shows readers that women and minorities are capable of doing things, an idea that people probably didn't want to spread around.

    Some of the women reading it were probably secretly inspired, hoping that one day they would accomplish something like Unca did. Others (men, most likely), probably didn't agree.

    As to whether which was more important, race or gender, I would probably say gender. Gender roles were very defined and very strict. Women had their place, and it was in the house. Race I feel like was probably less of a concrete thing, as there were free blacks and most likely other races that had integrated into England and other countries by that time.

    Because women played such a huge role in society, books like these were probably feared because they might give young women and girls ideas about "doing something" with their lives, instead of finding a husband and having children.

  15. This could definitely be text that would possibly do well in the canon. I feel like many of the texts in the canon are generally the same kinds of things, within their own decade of course. I feel like there is a lack of travel narratives or shipwrecked, deserted type stories like these being taught in classrooms. From this class alone, you can learn a lot about the images, themes, and a variety of other things from these types of stories. This is definitely one text that could be useful in the canon. It is not told from the perspective of the male, which is standard during the century. Having a powerful female voice tell the story of being resourceful and strong would do well in the canon and be a perfect contrast to the novels about losing virginities, sex, and marrying men 3 times older than you.