Monday, October 17, 2011

Required Blog Post: Keena Griffin

Beginning with the title and introductory sections of our text, The Female American, we are guided to base our interpretations of this book on two themes: the roles of gender and race. It is often compared to Robinson Crusoe because of obvious similarities in the plot and details, which further leads us to read the text with these themes in mind and then compare them to the white male Crusoe. We are led to ask how the actions of a racially mixed female character compare to the white male. However, should we really take the gender/race bait? Is there a theme alive in the text that Winkfield wants to subliminally send to the reader without the focus of extensive criticism?

If there is another theme present, how does it interact with 18th century tradition of novels as educators? Does it attempt to educate morality or Christianity, such as some of the other works we have read - or does it do something completely different that other novels have not touched yet? Finally, how does intertextuality aid this new theme (or the original themes if you don't believe there is another theme present)?

11 comments:

  1. I did not want to suggest an answer in my question, but I believe that this text deals with Christian superiority and how this overcomes the other barriers of race and gender. When Unca encounters the natives on the island, she believes that she can educate them in Christianity to make them better, which is a little different because we usually see women as objects rather than instigators of change in civilization.

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  2. I agree that the text seems to show Christian superiority. Even in the beginning where Unca's father "converts" Unca (his wife) to Christianity shows the beginning of the "white male" regaining his superiority after being a prisoner...

    Also, about "the actions of the racially mixed female" how it compares to Robinson Crusoe... I'm not sure why I get this vibe, but I see more sincerity in Unca. Also her closeness and affection towards her family shows a difference... when compared to Crusoe. Which seems to give the notion that women are more sentimental and loyal. The virtue loyalty seems to be prevalent in the beginning of "The Female American." Also, I just want to add that I'm enjoying this novel a lot more than our dear Gentleman, Tristram Shandy. :)

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  3. I also agree with the theme of Christian superiority, and how that trumps Unca's race or gender. I think that the author knew that her race and gender were going to be problematic, which is why she ends up being the perfect Christian who wants to help her fellow men. This allows the reader to "look past" her other traits, and see that her religion is the most important trait of all because it makes her the character that she is.

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  4. As Nathan said, if "the author knew that her race and gender were going to problematic," why make her be a mixed raced woman to begin with?

    In one sense, I guess the author was trying to make a character in reaction to Crusoe. Instead of a white man, she created a mixed race woman. But, I think it also helped the plot because Unca was able to communicate with the natives that come to her island because she knew their language. I do agree that her Christianity became more important than her race or gender, so again, why even make her a mixed race woman? (I don't really know how to answer that)

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  5. I think that Unca, being a female, must take extra steps to prove herself as a religious leader among the natives; and I actually see her leadership play out much more than Crusoe's. I agree with what Nathan said about how she is having to makeup for the fact that she is a woman, which is why she is portrayed as the "perfect Christian". With that being said, she appears to follow faith much more genuinely than Crusoe does. Crusoe seems to question his faith many times throughout. I also actually think that Unca's gender and race both help her to appear as a "better" Christian. In literature the typical white missionary from England is often portrayed as forceful and domineering. Unca tears down this scheme by being not only a woman, but a woman of mixed race. I think that Winkfield is purposely presenting Unca as a much more involved Christian than Crusoe, however, the fact that she is a female, in my opinion, already pushes her beyond the typical idea of a "missionary".

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  6. I agree in that Unca already has enough "grief" to deal with being a female and being biracial. Turning to religion was maybe her way to deal with her individuality even before she was on the island. She actually seems genuine and actually religious unlike most other characters we have read about. Her gender and race was in a way, able to separate this text from Robinson Crusoe (because as we have learned, scholars do compare the too). Also, her real passionate feelings for spreading the word of God separates her from Crusoe too. I'm not really sure if her being religious is a way to show "Christian superiority". Maybe the author was just trying to show that spreading and believing in any type of religion, Christianity or not, is the way to live.

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  7. I agree with what has been said, that the novel presents something different with Unca's female, multiracial perspective; however, I think the novel is comparable to Robinson Crusoe in terms of colonialism or religious imperialism as themes. I think the American Female represents a kind of ideal outcome for Europeans: we are presented with the mother Unca, a woman of complete native heritage, that is fully converted to Christianity. In doing so, her mixed race daughter is born a Christian. When Unca Jr. is stranded on the island, she uses her mixed race and Christian upbringing to convert the natives. It is an optimal outcome, a kind of domino effect for the spread of Christianity that European readers would value. Sincere or not, Unca is still propelling the spread of Christianity to people that were perfectly content with their own religion. So far anyway (having only read vol. 1 so far) I see the gender/race card as an interesting (of course, our favorite word for this novel) component, but I think the religious imperialism component is a source of richer or more complex interpretation.

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  8. I agree that Christian domination is one of the most prevalent themes in the novel. However, I don't see that as far removed from the racial imperialism theme. I think the overall theme of imperialism is the most important in this novel, and that race and religion go hand in hand in this. The race is not as important as the Christianity since Unca is half-Indian anyway, but I don't think that the religion is as important as the imperialism itself.

    As for the feminism, I find that component very interesting, even if it is very obvious. I think that Unca's ability to establish authority and survive in a foreign setting without much help is a very impressive feat for a female character of the 18th Century. Compared to Pamela, whose only agency is letter writing and good looks, Unca is very proactive. In that vein, it's also telling that TFA was so overlooked and unimpressive in the 18C, and books like Pamela were best sellers and instant classics.

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  9. I do think that, although it is a much smaller part of the novel, The Female American does try to teach the readers about morality and protecting one's virtue through the conversion of the Native people. This begins with Unca Sr. and Unca's father. Unca Jr.'s father will not sleep with Unca Sr. until they are married in a religious ceremony ("my mother, proving with child from the night of their marriage, was safely delivered of me" page47). As a Christian, Unca's father refuses to have sex with Unca Sr. until they have been united in marriage. Unca Jr's actions also seem to be the author's attempt to instill morality in the readers, she will not be alone with a man "yet I could not satisfy myself with the reflection of being much alone with a man, as it hurt my modesty" (page139). Despite the fact that she is living among "savages" who would not know the Christian religious consequences of her losing her virtue when no married, the author depicts Unca Jr as being so devout in her religion that she will keep her virtue. This being said, however, I do think that the author's main point in this novel is not about morality/ Christianity but British imperialism.

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  10. I agree when everyone says that Winkfield is showing Christian superiority, but I have a problem readily accepting that Unca is as sincere as people are painting her to be. Yes, she is clearly more sincere than Crusoe, I do not think she is entirely innocent of the imperialistic ideals and attitudes that accompanied Crusoe's character. Crusoe maintains a more extroverted attitude of superiority over his "subjects," and while Unca is less up front with her imperialistic attitude, she does feel that she is better than them. She says, "By keeping them ignorant of who I was, or how I came to them, I might preserve a superiority over them, sufficient to keep them in awe, and to excite their obedience: yet I determined to speak no untruth" (110). She legitimately wanted to teach them truths, but she still intended to remain on a pedestal above them, and she used a level of anonymity in order to do this. She tells them not to be deterred by the fact that the messenger God sends will be a woman, and I wonder if she tells them this and maintains an air of secrecy because she is afraid they will not listen to her, or because they will hurt her....?

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  11. Again I have to agree that Christianity is being advertised overtly in the narrative. However I think that there is a complication in trying to argue the exchange between imperialist desire for religious sincerity. Conquest and colonization was founded on the three G's: Gold, Glory, and God. They were pursued simultaneously. I think that her control of the island is significantly dependent on her ability to genuinely spread Christianity across it, and her ability, and impetus for doing so, is rooted in her sincere faith. Though I think there is a legitimate argument in saying she maintained anonymity at first to avoid risking damage to her credibility or physical person.

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