In Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, it can be observed that the female characters play a powerful role in this book which was unusual for the time period of the 1840s. Sedgwick also portrays Native Americans in a humanistic and even favorable way during the course of this novel. This is revolutionary because women often did not get to be the main characters who exhibited strong opinions, acts of heroism and power. Sedgwick’s unconventional representation of Native Americans is also notable because whites and colonists had no sympathy for them. They were seen as enemies and inhuman, especially under their religion. We can see an example of this through John Smith’s From the General History of Virginia, when he writes about the Native Americans. When discussing their religion he says, “their Okee”, or their God. Talking about them this way “others” them and contributes to the idea that they are simple and need the help of white Christians to be saved from their barbaric lifestyle.
The significance of Magawisca’s arm being severed can represent many different things. First, the loss of her arm is her symbolic loss of her masculine qualities like power and strength or a symbolic castration. It also severs the potential relationship between Magawisca and Everell. Magawisca goes from possible lover to a sister figure. In the wilderness, rigid gender roles can be skewed. The normal social rules regarding the behaviors both male and females must follow are disrupted by the wild because it’s an unknown and undiscovered area. Because the wilderness is not enlightened by God or developed, it is mysterious and the normal rules of civilized society no longer apply.
I strongly believe this book should have been entitled Magawisca. I understand why Sedgwick couldn’t do this during the time because she had to appeal to the audience at hand. However, I think now in this day and age it should be titled after Magawisca in some way. She was a huge point of observation and greatly romanticized by Sedgewick throughout the novel even when she is first introduced. She writes, “her face was beautiful even to a European eye”. Another example of Magawisca being romanticized is when Sedgwick writes about her imagination being linked to her race and nature. She writes, “…saw nothing but the visions of her imagination; heard nothing but the fancied voices of the spirits of her race.” While this may be mistaken as a condescending observation, it actually is more likely a reflection of the romanization of nature and/or the wilderness. Magawisca also sacrifices her limb for Everell which shows her compassion for both her tribe and the Fletchers. She consistently shows acts of bravery and heroism throughout this novel which is worthy of recognition within the title.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captivity_narrative– photo credit