Reflections on Hope Leslie

Hope Lesl…I mean…Magawisca or, Early Times in the Massachusetts

Titles are the first thing we see when we pick up a piece of literature. It can make us wonder, it can baffle us, and it can make us put the book back down and continue on with our day. Titles are meant to grab our attention. Titles can be one of the hardest things to write when first starting a novel, and the job for the author is to try and have it connect with their audience. In an article written by writer Scott Berkun, “The Truth about Choosing Book Titles”, he lists various things to consider when thinking about a title. One of the things to consider according to Berkun, is whether or not the title “matches the soul of the book”. However, the “soul of the book”, cannot really be reached until the novel is finished to try and connect the two together. With Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, the soul of the book can be stemmed from the novel’s title character, but is Hope Leslie really the “soul of the book” in the novel?

I can see why Catharine Maria Sedgwick titled her novel; Hope Leslie, or early times in the Massachusetts. Hope Leslie is one of the lead characters in the novel. She has a direct relationship with the overall conflict in the story, which has to do with the kidnapping of her sister, Faith, along with the general theme of hostility between the early settlers of the United States and the Native Americans still inhabiting the land. With that being said, Hope Leslie is a character that is connected to different worlds, while also succumbing into a journey that changes her whole lifestyle around. As intelligent, caring, and free spirited she is, women were not characterized like that in the early 17th century, but were rather supposed to act “womanly”, which is characterized by being obedient, quiet, and prude. Sedgwick based her novel on a woman that seems to transcend past social norms and boundaries in Hope Leslie, but there is actually another character that seems to show these traits while also being an outsider in general because of her skin color, the character of Magawisca.

Magawisca is a character that could have never seen the light of day in our world if it not for Sedgwick. A Native American female, Magawisca can be seen as the voice of the voiceless. She is written in a light unseen by many of the 18th century (and 16th century) American, as Sedgwick places a great deal of emphasis to point out the fact that Native American’s are not these barbaric people that we seem to think they are. Magawisca is an intelligent, noble, and beautiful woman. She is characterized by the narrator in the novel, “Her face, although marked by the peculiarities of her race, was beautiful even to a European eye…but there must be something beyond symmetry of feature to fix the attention, and it was an expression of dignity, thoughtfulness, and deep dejection…”(23). Her dignity is a quality seen through out the novel, most notably when she saves the life of Everell, and loses an arm in the process. This scene in particular should note how important of a character Magawisca really is. She saves the life of a man with a skin color different than her’s, while also somewhat betraying her own people in the process. It sort of makes Hope Leslie’s problems seem benign. Her humbleness seems to make us love her even more, and these are the qualities that stand out to an audience. An outcast, who is heroic and caring, wins over the traditional image of a hero. Magawisca truly fits the description of that character.

Titles. Titles can make or break a novel based on what we hear in our head. Imagine being a 19th century American female writer (already a bit of an outcast). Now imagine having a book written about a female Native American? Many would call it blasphemous, mainly men, whom still run the country during this time. They would call into question the nature of having a novel based on a “savage”. What if there is a character that had similar qualities to Magawisca, and would not enrage so many people in the process? Well there is one, and I feel that may serve as a reason as to why Sedgwick chose to name the novel after her instead. Race is a theme relevant to both novel and author in their respective time periods. While Sedgwick did a brilliant job in putting Native American’s in a positive light, maybe her book would have been more profound if it was to be titled after the heroic Magawisca instead? In addition, maybe the novel being named after Magawisca would reflect the time period in which Sedgwick published the novel, where Native American and U.S citizens continued to have conflict. Magawisca didn’t let society keep her from being her true self, and I feel like Sedgwick could have done a huge justice by using her to reflect a novel that put Native American’s in the limelight.

Magawisca or, Early Times in the Massachusetts.

I think a name like that would be able to stick in my head for a few days.

Just a thought.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Hope Lesl…I mean…Magawisca or, Early Times in the Massachusetts

  1. To quote Meatloaf, “you took the words right out of my mouth”. I totally agree with the title of the novel being the safer choice for Sedgwick, even if it compromises the readers’ initial understanding of the text. The point you make about a woman making a mark in a man’s world (especially a WHITE man’s world) is evident not only in her writing style but is reflected in her characters. Hope AND Magawisca defy convention of their time and of Sedgwick’s, and in doing so a sense of timelessness is granted to Sedgwick in creating early American strong female protagonists.
    In another class of mine, we learned that during the 19th Century many authors would entitle their work with a character’s name, followed by what the major theme of the text was; in this case we see Hope’s name and what life was like during the time the novel is set in. If Sedgwick had used a title that wasn’t a name, and merely encompassed the essence of the novel, she probably wouldn’t have received the recognition she deserved, or would have been deeply understood if read at all.

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  2. You made such a strong point in your final sentence! I wish you would have expounded on that more, that was an interesting argument. I did not even think about the revolutionary impact Sedgwick could have had on the people of her time if she had just been bold enough to name her book Magawisca. I was just thinking that literarily speaking, naming the book after Magawisca just logically made sense. I was not thinking about the impact it could have had on her audience’s perception of Native Americans. We live in a time and nation where people know that risks are what need to be taken in order to bring change so it makes total sense why Sedgwick should have taken that risk.

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