Reflections on Hope Leslie

The New Definition of American

After reading Hope Leslie and accompanying readings in my Early American Literature class, I had to continue talking about American Identity from my previous blog post, because I discovered a new, apparently key definitive term for “American”— it is… ungrateful. Now this adjective may have never came to mind were it not for the combination of recent readings I read for my class. Ultimately, it makes sense—instead of focusing on our country from within, Americans keep wanting more from the outside (mainly in terms of money) and that’s the reason we keep setting ourselves up for doom…. Just take a look at the history of US debt.

Chart of US debt since 1790 | Daily Reckoning

The majority of Americans seem to never be satisfied with what they have. This ungratefulness has ultimately also resulted in a lack of identity. Phillip J. Deloria, in his Playing Indian, sums it up by noting Americans have “an awkward tendency to define themselves by what they [are] not” and that they “failed to produce a positive identity that [stands] on its own” (3). From the moment Puritans began settling in America, this identity crisis began. Americans needed to either “exterminate” or include all Native American Indians in order to develop a clear American identity; however, they haven’t been able to do that completely because since they invaded, “Americans wanted to feel a natural affinity with the continent, and it was Indians who could teach them such aboriginal closeness” (5).

An interesting phenomenon that has been occurring as a result of this lack of clear identity is that “over the past thirty years, the counterculture, the New Age, the men’s movement, and a host of other Indian performance options have given meaning to Americans lost in a (post)modern freefall” (Deloria 7). However, Native Americans are not happy about New Agers imitating their practices. After an incident of two New Agers dying in a sacred Native American space, Pima tribal member Marvin Coops responded, “In a way it makes me mad. If it doesn’t apply to them or their culture and who they are and they don’t do it right or respect it, then they should leave it alone.” And to continue with the idea that, for Americans, it’s all about seeking to the outside in order to make money— “it’s been reported those who participated in the sweat lodge ceremony up in Sedona paid nearly $9,000 for the retreat.” Of course, “tribal members have said charging money to be in this ceremony is something they wouldn’t do.”

There have been some attempts to perhaps ameliorate the problem between Native Americans and American settlers, but these efforts have not gotten far because of the history and character of America. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, who wrote Hope Leslie, a novel portraying early American life, seems to have attempted offering different views on Native Americans. She did so, so much that many readers believe the book should be titled after the heroic Native American character, Magawisca. However, despite Magawisca’s prominence in the novel, Sedgwick also had to abstain from giving the Native American the title, otherwise the novel would probably not have gone into business—again, a money problem.

Even within Hope Leslie, the Pequod chief, before attempting to decapitate the English boy Everell says, “’He has the skin, but not the soul of that mixed race, whose gratitude is like that vanishing mist’” (96). Pequod refers to the American settlers as “that mixed race,” and compares their gratitude to the “vanishing mist” on a nearby mountaintop— obviously a negative remark on Americans’ unfailing ungratefulness. Pequod sees Everell as an exception of this ungratefulness and thus deems him worthy of sacrifice— however, mostly all other American settlers are seen as typical Americans.

Mountains with “vanishing mist” as Pequod might have seen | AsiaGrace

One can find millions of examples of American ungratefulness mentioned by Native Americans and people of other nations. But the best thing we, Americans, could do to break people’s perception of us (and to form our own identity—although this whole process of trying to obtain one is already giving us some identity) is to start taking action towards fixing internal issues before we venture out to gain new things. Skimming through today’s news will provide anyone with an overview of our nation’s problems—it’s no secret to Americans or people looking at America.




One thought on “The New Definition of American

  1. Hey, I really liked your blog, the United States’ debt chart also made me do a little research on my own as well because I wanted to know how the US compared to the rest of the world. We as a nation hold over a quarter of the world’s national debt, which is very alarming. One question I had after reading your post though, I didn’t seem to get the connection between ungratefulness and a lack of identity. I realize that you talk about it a little more, but Deloria only seems to be talking about having a negative identity because defining someone by what they are not is also creating an identity in itself. Sorry if I’m being a little nitpicky but it’s because I really liked your post and wanted a little more from it!


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