Reflections on Hope Leslie

Magawisca, the Heroine

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Photo: Sacagawea, a real Native American woman with agency.

The novel Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick presents a historically controversial narrative of the interaction of some early Americans and the Native American people. Although the novel is titled after Hope Leslie, one of the Americans, the title of the book really should be “Magawisca”. Sedgwick made so many controversial literary choices that the title should virtually not matter, even though it does because of the historical context. In this novel, the Native American characters were given a voice, agency, and strong character development. Magawisca, one of the Native American servants, was the heroine, saving a white man from certain death at the hands of her own people. Magawisca’s humanity was displayed and she was not just a “savage” as Native Americans were typically portrayed as in literature. A powerful and surprising exhibition of Magawisca’s agency was in her response to Hope Leslie after she found out that her sister Faith Leslie married Magawisca’s brother Oneco. She showed pride in her people reminding that in Oneco’s “veins runs the blood of the strongest” and questioned Hope’s humanity by asking “Think ye that your blood will be corrupted by mingling with this stream” (p. 196-97)? She is portrayed as a strong individual despite the popular negative regard toward Native Americans during this time.

Sedgwick most likely titled the novel Hope Leslie to not purposely sabotage the book’s success. “Hope Leslie” is more inviting and allows the mind to wonder about what the plot will actually be about before and even after reading it entirely. Unfortunately, the title choice was a wise business choice if indeed that was Sedgwick’s intent. Karen Woods Weirman, the author of “Reading and Writing Hope Leslie: Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Indian ‘Connections,’” helped me shape my position on this matter. I happened upon this article when doing research and even though we are not addressing the same matters, Weierman highlights moments in the novel that display Magawisca’s character and it made me reflect on her role in the novel. Historically, Native Americans were not typically esteemed in literature but in Hope Leslie that is not entirely the case. Sedgwick has included an interesting blend of negative and positive attributions to Native Americans and the white Americans alike. The character development of the Native Americans in this novel however, is more interesting and noteworthy especially in comparison to the white American characters which is why the novel should have appropriately be named “Magawisca”.

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3 thoughts on “Magawisca, the Heroine

  1. I think you make a good point in your analysis of Sedgwick’s intention in terms of selling her novel. The novel may not have sold as well if it was named after Magawisca, since Lydia Maria Child’s novel “Hobomok” – named after an American Indian character in her book – did not fare well (though other factors due weigh in, such as the issues dealt with in Child’s novel).

    I think it is important to also consider that the time period in which Sedgwick wrote “Hope Leslie” was one of anti-American Indian sentiments, considering that only three years after her novel was published, the Indian Removal Act was passed. Although Magawisca is a powerful character who practices her agency, she is portrayed in a way that suggests her departure is inevitable. The symbolic castration she undergoes destroys her chances of being Everell’s romantic partner and she is soon after replaced by Sedgwick’s “heroine”, Hope Leslie. The decision to name the novel after Hope instead of Magawisca may have been also a political decision in addition to a business-related one.

    I do agree that Magawisca’s character was much more interesting than any other character. Also, good choice of quotations!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Its very interesting that the Native Americans were associated with failure business wise when it comes to literature, but were often the topic of conversation, its like they can be painted as these villains and savages, but giving them perspective and a presence would result in people not wanting to read. I also think though I would want the title to be Magawisca, Sedgwick made the right decision by going with Hope Leslie, and after all it is just a title. It doesn’t change Magawisca as a character in any way, and her story remains the same, and still powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved reading this piece. I was very interesting and we had a lot of the same points. I especially agree with your point about the title being better in recognizing who the story is really impacted by what it’s truly about. I also agree and I enjoyed hearing the Native Americans have a voice and even be validated by Sedgwick. What was really interesting about your piece was your opinion on why it was titled after Hope Leslie instead of Magawisca. I was always under the impression that she had to title it after an American white girl to appeal to her audience but your article got me thinking that she willingly did this to draw people in, while also showing the importance and humanity of Native Americans.

    Liked by 1 person

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