“…an Indian, in whose veins runs the blood of the strongest, the fleetest of the children of the forest, who never turned their backs on friends or enemies, and whose souls have returned to the Great Spirit stainless as they came from him. Think ye that your blood will be corrupted by mingling with this stream?” – Magawisca (Sedgwick 197)
While the title character of Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s novel Hope Leslie may be Hope Leslie that does not mean that the first quarter of the book is not the character Magawisca’s story to tell. Early on, she seems to be the center of all the drama and for good reason. Her presence brings most of the heart and empathy for the struggles of the Natives as she is able to communicate with both the Puritans and her own people; her adopted family include Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher and their son Everell who teaches her English; her father Chief Mononotto is who she personally appeals to in order to spare Everell’s life.
Magawisca is a fighter, a young woman connected to Earth and her community even when all is changing around her. She is beloved from the moment people see her because she is not quite the savage they expect her to be. She represents the best of the “Noble Savage” stereotype. The novel starts off with a description of her as being appealing to most Europeans with “a freedom and loftiness in her movement which though tempered with modesty, expressed a consciousness of high birth. Her face, although marked by the peculiarities of her race, was beautiful even to a European eye.” (Sedgwick 22-23) For this Mrs. Fletcher although immediately threatened by her presence eases to her and considers her one of her children. She even says, “We do not ask your life, my good girl… but a light heart and a cheerful look,” ironically, just moments before she and her children excluding Everell are killed my Mononotto and three other Indian warriors who enact revenge.
In a similar way to the tale of Pocahontas by John Smith, Magawisca is forced to plead with her father to spare the life of Everell who she loves. To her father whom she had not seen in a long time but was always connected to, she reminds him that she knows her roots and what they’ve lost, but that he should not have taken his anger and vengeance out on innocent people like Mrs. Fletcher and her children. She appeals to his fatherly side to spare the last boy, Everell, from being sentenced to death. Because she cannot see him die and her father has become too stubborn to listen to what she had to say, she dodges in front of Everell when he is to be executed and has her arm cut off in the process. This is a moment when all present see her for the fierce warrior woman that she has grown to be through her experiences.
So while she does not have her name on the cover of this book, Magawisca has much, if not more, importance in the main plot of the book to see the other side of the war with the Natives that Sedgwick depicts and is far more than the savage they would immediately make her out to be.
P.S. My code word reappeared in this book! After getting her arm severed in saving Everell’s life: “All—the dullest and the coldest, paid involuntary homage to the heroic girl, as if she were a superior being, guided and upheld by supernatural power.” (97)
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