Close Reading American Literature

William Apess’s Proving and Passing


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Now let me ask you, white man, if it is a disgrace for to eat, drink and sleep with the image of God, or sit, or walk and talk with them? Or have you the folly to think that the white man, being one in fifteen or sixteen, are the only beloved images of God? Assemble all nations together in your imagination, and then let the whites be seated amongst them, and then let us look for the whites, and I doubt not it would be hard finding them; for to the rest of the nations, they are still but a handful. Now suppose these skins were put together, and each skin had its national crimes written upon it—which skin do you think would have the greatest? I will ask one question more. Can you charge the Indians with robbing a nation almost of their whole Continent, and murdering their women and children, and then depriving the remainder of their lawful rights, that nature and God require them to have? And to cap the climax, rob another nation to till their grounds, and welter out their days under the lash with hunger and fatigue under the scorching rays of a burning sun? I should look at all the skins, and I know that when I cast my eye upon that white skin, and if I saw those crimes written upon it, I should enter my protest against it immediately, and cleave to that which is more honorable. And I can tell you that I am satisfied with the manner of my creation, fully—whether others are or not. (Apess, 97)

On first reading, this passage suggests William Apess is directly confronting the white authority of his time for the crimes of their race. By using Christian rhetoric he develops the argument that if all skin tones were places on trial white skin would bear their ancestral crimes he would “enter my protest against it immediately, and cleave to that which is more honorable”. Essentially he would defend the white race against the accusations because it would be the high road to take. In the very next sentence it may be interpreted that he feels no guilt in his creation. On a second reading, however, the passage is more complicated. Does he assert as an individual that he is content with “the manner of my creation” or does he mean it as a blanket statement for his race? Previously he discusses white people as a race so does he follow with his own? William Apess at this moment would then be complicating the idea of his passing. Apess objectifies human skin in an uncomfortable way to make the point that skin is both an intangible concept but a physical barrier. Apess paints Native Americans as victims of white invasion as a rhetoric technique to add fuel to the idea that they are innocent savages of the forest. This presentation appeals to the patriarchy that he consistently has to prove himself an ally to. This passage is important because it is evidence that discourse about Native American genocide is not a new conversation. This discourse has been an outlier in conversations about America with a limited audience but this work serves as an early ancestor. On the whole is passage is important in understanding Apess’s struggle in passing and proving because he had temper with a concession where he originally might not have wanted to add one.

This paragraph has a lot going on. Would it serve better to take my ideas and break them down into separate different paragraphs?


2 thoughts on “William Apess’s Proving and Passing

  1. You present your ideas very intelligently and clearly. You interpreted the text and engaged with it very effectively. In terms of whether this could be split up into more than one paragraph, I feel it could go either way. The paragraph you have connects everything rather nicely, and maybe splitting it could cause a little bit of confusion but, it could also allow you to go further in depth if you’d like.

    Liked by 1 person

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