"True statements": Women's narratives of the American frontier experience
AuthorStefani, Victoria Lee
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis study examines women's narratives about their experiences on successive American frontiers. It analyzes exemplary texts from Puritan women's captivity narratives to the early 20th-century letters and memoir of Mary Hallock Foote. Close readings of those texts reveal how they were influenced at the time of their production, or later appropriated for other purposes, by white male authority figures, reflecting an attitude that women's stories are fair game for reinterpretation and that women's concerns about such reinterpretations are irrelevant. Examples of influence include the captivity narratives of Mary Rowlandson (1682) and Hannah Swarton (1697). The composition and publication of their narratives was encouraged and approved by Puritan leaders Increase Mather (Rowlandson) and Cotton Mather (Swarton) as effective religious and political propaganda. Examples of appropriation include Cotton Mather's representation of the captivity of Hannah Dustin (1697), a story later revised by both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau; Frederick Manfred's Scarlet Plume (1964), based on Sarah Wakefield's Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees (1864); and Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose (1972), which draws on and quotes extensively from--but never credits--the memoirs and letters of writer and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote. Analyses of these texts and of sensationalized representations of "Bandit Queen" Belle Starr explore the purposes and results of such influence and appropriation. Women's voices were encouraged when they served approved purposes, such as justifying religious faith and encouraging anti-Indian sentiment, characteristics of most captivity narratives. However, some women's behavior was deemed unacceptable or problematic: Hannah Dustin's killing and scalping of her Indian captors, Sarah Wakefield's outrage at U.S. government Indian policies which triggered the 1862 Dakota Uprising, the unjust execution of her captor/rescuer, and the impugning of her chastity; Belle Starr's unorthodox lifestyle and marriages to outlaws and Indians; and (in Stegner's view) Mary Hallock Foote's alleged snobbishness. Whether they valorized conventional attitudes and beliefs, invoked questions of conscience with regard to recognized authority, or were deliberately provocative and rebellious, these women's attempts at self-representation through words or actions were mediated in various ways by their relationships to male-dominated power structures.
Degree ProgramGraduate College