Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Required Blog Question: Female American

We've seen that The Female American has themes of both imperialism (Unca's determination to convert the natives, her own position of "High Priestess" over them, the demolition of the idol statue, etc.) and feminism (Unca's domination over the Indians, her agency and survival skills, and again her position as "High Priestess").

What, then, should we as readers make of Unca and her husband's decision to remain on the islands (albeit with increased resources from England)? Is this the author's effort to support imperialism? Does the characters' decision to stay reflect their desire to continue their lives of grandeur and authority, or does the accompanying decision to leave Europe behind them forever imply a desire to "go native" and abandon their imperialist ideals?

On the feminist side, is Unca's decision to stay on the islands where she is a person of authority a backhanded implication that a woman can have no real authority in a more "structured" western society? Is the author literally putting Unca in her place by not allowing by saying that "sure, women can have authority, but not in our society," or is he or she empowering Unca by giving her imperialistic dominance?


  1. In regards to whether or not Unca and her husband's decision to remain on the island speaks to the author's notions of imperialism, I'd have to agree (if indeed you're suggesting it does) with that. I think it has a lot less to do with the notions of grandeur and authority that you mentioned, though those do play a role, than it does with the desire to abandon their imperialistic ways.

    As for the second part, the fact that the islands are a society all their own, and far removed from the facets of England despite the support they receive, would suggest to me that indeed the author is making somewhat of an effort to assign Unca her own "place", so to that she can be in a position of authority, as long as that position is a long way from Europe - where such a thing wouldn't be, for lack of a better term, experimented with.

  2. Unca and her husband's decision to stay on the island does showcase the author's effort to support imperialism. Their decision to stay in a place where they have power shows the human need for control. I also feel that the author had Unca stay on the island to symbolize the side of her race that should be "native" or representative of an indian (sorry, I know that isn't politically correct).

    I also agree with the second part of this question in that Unca does have control on the island, even though she is a woman. Back in England, Unca's family did have money and they were respected. However, she didn't hold power to the same extent.

  3. I also have to agree with the notion that the narrator is trying to support imperialism. It only makes sense, given the time the work was published, and the fact of the matter in that time, that imperialism would be a supported endeavor. I'm not even sure it was viewed as imperialism then, I mean that's a bit of a retrospective term, it was more an issue of colonization and the spread of European culture. That's just my opinion though.

    As far as Unca's reign on the island is concerned though, I do not think it is a backhanded way of saying women cannot reign in Europe for two reasons, and were only fit to do so in faraway places. The first being that women, historically, had already been known to hold massive amounts of power in Europe, with queens waging wars and ruling countries before. Sure it was not common but there was a history of it happening and being successful. The second, and perhaps stronger reason, is that the act of colonization itself is an incredibly masculinized idea, even at that time. Explorers often referred to lands being fertile, of dominating lands, of taking virgin lands, of plunging the flags of their nations into the untouched lands they discovered (violent innuendo much?). The lands were feminized and the act of conquering them by male explorers took on a sexual domineering quality. That Unca replaces the male position in this act is, I think, incredibly enfranchising for her, and masculinizing, not at all some kind of misogynistic slap in the face. Again, just my opinion.

  4. There are plenty of clues in the text that lead me to believe Unca and her husband have imperialist attributes. However, I do not think that is their reason for remaining on the island. First of all, we must keep in mind that ruling a deserted island of natives does not offer any more grandeur than living well-off in England. Unca is living on a deserted island- not in a castle or kingdom; so I guess my question to everyone who deems her aristocratic and power-hungry would be, what is she getting out of ruling this island of natives? While she does mention the natives seeing her as more than a "mere mortal", she re-emphasizes that this power she holds over the people is necessary for them to learn the Christian religion; if they thought she was simply a human, would they really listen to her? I think her purpose for staying on the island is that, according to her husband, it is a "so pious a resolve". I think we are letting other historical works of literature, where all missionaries tend to be the "power-hungry bad guy" affect our ability to see this religious conversion as a truly genuine cause.

    Although Unca doesn't hold the power in England that she holds on this island, she doesn't have the ability or resources (native converts) in England to achieve her purpose of being a missionary. And like Noble said, it has nothing to do with gender because for centuries women have been ruling parts of Europe and many times have had just as much power as any male ruler.

  5. After finishing the novel, I do think that the decision by Unca and her husband/cousin to stay on the island and continue their lifestyle is the author's way of supporting the British imperialism of "savage" peoples and lands. I think that the fact that Unca and her husband took all of the natives' gold for themselves is one of the ways in which this imperialism can be seen. The goal of the British imperialism was to gain resources and treasures that would be useful to the British people. Unca and her husband sold the gold and used the profits for their own benefit and that of the British people (by giving some of the money to their family and some to charities in England). The native people really got nothing from the sale of their resource.

  6. I agree with Gina. I think that the fact that her husband and her decide to stay on the island is a way for them to have control. By staying on the island they are able to have control over their own lives in society, even though their idea of control may not be the same as we view it today.It gave them the opportunity to take control and become the powerful people they became upon the "natives".

    I also think that Unca staying on the island made her more of a independent woman rather than putting her in her place. The idea of power has always been around in Europe as many woman have been rulers. Thus, like mentioned above it is not a role of gender differences in power but instead just depends on the how much control a woman can obtain in society.

  7. Wow, the author of this blog post really made me do some thinking. Great job, Brittany.

    I never thought about the possibility that have Unca leave Western society at the end of the novel was a way of saying that women can only have power in "less-civilized" places. If that is what Winkfield is saying, then it is a doubly offensive thought--she would be saying that women are only sufficient sources of power and leadership outside the context of Western society, and "savages" are low enough on the totem pole to be ruled by women. Unca does, however, direct her husband to return to England, sell their possessions and then return back to the island. I suppose Unca does have some influence over a man in this regard.

    Do any of you think that Winkfield could have been empowering Unca by giving her a sort of power over her husband by having him listen to her about such a drastic decision?

  8. I have to agree with Noble. In imperialism, a common practice was dominate and control an conquered lands was through "feminizing" the conquered. Rape, through out the history of imperialism, has become a common tool for conquest. I think, like many other people have said, this novel supports the notion of imperialism even if the main character is a woman. Instead, the woman takes on the masculine role and the male priests, as we discussed in class, take on the feminine role.

    In order for Unca to be successful, the author first makes her more masculine and does separate her from Europe where she would have been forced to take on the role of a wife. She eventually does marry, but only to ensure her control and respect of the native. At the same time, I think this novel does allow for a woman to be empowered. While she does not return to Europe, she still brings the Christian religion and other European values to the island. She is still markedly European and holds much control over the people of the island. I think the author is allowing for woman to be powerful.

  9. I would agree that the author is supporting imperialism because I find it odd that between going back to a nice, supported life in England, Unca makes her husband come back and live with her on the island. Unca definitely has a power over the natives and I think the decision to stay was one of continuing authority. If they returned to England, they would have had a lot of money and lived comfortably, but Unca would have returned to her normal station as a woman, tending to the house and having children. On the island, she can be the boss. It seems unlikely that the author would choose to have Unca and her husband stay on the island for the fun of it. It obviously fulfills the idea of imperialism, two civilized people moving to an island filled with savages in an attempt to tame, educate and teach them.

    I think Unca likes the fact that she is in power. And, the author makes it seem that because she is on a "deserted" island, she can have power. She has what seems like real authority, too. Unca arrives on the island, magically converts everybody to Christianity without any hang ups, goes to live with them where she essentially replaces the priests, tells her husband to get their stuff from England and then decides to spend the rest of her life on the island.

    I think the author is doing a little bit of both. In some aspects, she/he is sort of sarcastically writing, "yeah, in another world..." that a woman could have power, but it's also interesting that the author does in fact choose to go with it. Throughout the novel, though somewhat unbelievably, Unca has what looks like real power over the natives and even her husband.