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”.