In the novel, Hope Leslie, Catherine Maria Sedgwick uses personal analysis as well as historical information to create an uncannily realistic tale of romance, racial prejudice and religion. Throughout the book, Sedgwick emphasizes relations between the Native American peoples and the European Americans living in Massachusetts in the 1640’s.
She is able to do this specifically with the characters of Magawisca, the Native American slave with the will of a lioness, Everell Fletcher, the handsome much wanted white male protagonist, Hope Leslie, a strong headed young woman who symbolizes modernism in the piece and Esther Downing, Hope Leslie’s literary foil. Through the relationships between Everell and each of the three female protagonists, Magawisca, Esther and Hope, Sedgwick stresses that the relations between Native Americans and Americans will never be fully amiable due to religious, societal, natural influences.
The first relationship of the three relationships that are mentioned in the writing is that of Everell and Magawisca. Sedgwick uses the mother, Mrs. Fletcher, to introduce this young love between the white boy and his Native American acquaintance in a letter to Mr. Everell while he is away from their home at Bethel. “The boy doth greatly affect the company of the Pequod girl, Magawisca”, she writes,” He hath taught her how to read” (32).
This action between the two children shows Magawisca gradually assimilating into the American society and thus, becoming more Americanized and less “savage” as literacy is considered a civilized ability. As Magawisca dismisses the basic principles of Puritanism, however, it is clear that there is a definitive divide between the Native American and her new family’s beliefs. As religious tenets are defining features of a person and his or her background, Magawisca can never completely assume the American ways without acknowledging the religion.
Thus, the relations between her and Everell will not be able to last due to their difference in. Thus, religious differences create adversities in the relationship and ultimately attribute its failure. Mrs. Fletcher directly highlights the fact that the relationship will inevitably fail when she compares the two adolescents to plants: “Two young plants that have sprung up in close neighborhood, may be separated while young; but if disjoined after their fibers are all intertwined, one, or perchance both, may perish” (33).
This statement implies that nature will undoubtedly separate the Everell and Magawisca in the future and the longer they stay together, the more difficult it will be for each of them to survive when they are torn apart. The emphasis on the fact that nature will tear the Native American and the white boy apart is particularly interesting because towards the end of the book Sedgwick brings up the relation between nature and love when speaking about Everell and Hope.
In the later case, however, Sedgwick writes, “Nature will rejoice in reciprocated love, under whatever adversities it comes” (351). This contradictory statement brings to light the idea that reciprocal love between and American and Native Indian will never last no matter how strong the connection is, yet reciprocal love between two Americans will last no matter how many hardships the couple face. Based on Sedgwick’s blatant double-standards, it is clear that relations between the same races are favored, creating yet another issue between Native American and White relations.
As the novel progresses, Everell encounters another relationship except this time with Esther Downing. Though this kinship does not directly involve a Native American counterpart, the future diminishment of this bond is directly based on Native American-white relations specifically concerning Magawisca. When Magawisca is apprehended after meeting with Hope Leslie, she is captured on the grounds that she is “suspected of being an active agent in brewing the conspiracy forming against [the white people] among the Indian tribes”(245).
Therefore she is solely arrested on the basis of suspicion, not proof, and only because of her racial affiliations and the skepticism surrounding the Native American peoples at the time. It is this imprisonment of Magawisca that proceeds to highlight the differences between Everell and Esther and future accentuates the fact that relations between the two races will never be completely peaceful. The reactions both Everell and Esther have towards the situation seem to be the same, however the way each of them handle it show that no matter how much the Americans want to have loyal relations with the Natives it will not work.
Once Magawisca is imprisoned Everell tried to enlist the help of Esther to free her however, Esther believes that they “had not scripture warrant for interfering between the prisoner and the magistrates” (292) implying, that she was too morally and religiously strict to free Magawisca without consent to do so. It wasn’t that Esther disliked Magawisca, in fact, she plainly stated that “those who love [Everell] need no know this maiden to feel that they would save her life at the expense of their own, if they might do it” (293).
The restriction on the loyal and amicable friendship both Esther and Magawisca could share was not hindered by distaste for one another, but instead because of strict religious views and moral conduct. This dissent between Everell’s wishes and Esther’s duty brings about the notion “that there was a painful discord between them” (293) and they are evidently not compatible. The final relationship, between Everell and Hope, shed a positive light the fact that white relations with Native Americans could in fact be successful.
Magawisca’s freedom gave both Everell and Hope a mutual cause to fight for and finally allowed them to express the feelings they had suppressed for so long. She pushed both parties to reveal their true love for each other. “Ask you own heart, Hope Leslie, if any charm could win your affections from Everell Fletcher? ” (350). These lines not only instigated a relationship between two soul mates but also affirmed a very close relationship between Hope and Magawisca. This gesture paralleled what Hope did to Esther when she let Esther have a relationship with Everell even though she loved him.
It is evident that Magawisca still has feelings for Everell by her reactions to seeing him: “An involuntary exclamation burst from her lips; and then shuddering at this exposure of her feelings, she hastily gathered together the moccasins that were strewn over the floor, dropped a pair at Hope’s feet, and darted away” (193). Her burst of emotions and flustered actions prove she had feelings for Everell and by sacrificing those feelings for Hope’s happiness, she is delineating that she is in fact, just as good of a friend to Hope as Hope is to Esther.
Thus, the relations between Indians and Americans can in fact occur with the upmost loyalty and respect. Though Hope and Everell’s relationship does indicate that the two races can coexist in harmony, Magawisca still makes it clear that thought the individuals may be on good terms, their society as a whole is not by dutifully stating “the law of vengeance is written on our hearts… the Indian and the white man can no more mingle, and become one, than day and night” (349).
The revengeful nature the Native Americans still associate with the white peoples of Massachusetts still trumps any possible platonic or affable relations between the two races. Thus, societal influence once again hinders harmony. Through each of the three relationships it is evident that good relations between the Indians and the Americans may only exist if the mindset of all parties involved is modernist and accepting of all races.
In addition, Sedgwick also determines, with the relationship of Faith, Hope’s sister, and Oneco, Magawisca’s brother, that if one of the lovers in the relationship completely assimilates into the culture of the other, a healthy, loving kinship may blossom. Though Sedgwick does portray Native American people in relatively positive light throughout the novel, through her delineation of forbidden and accepted love, she makes it evident that the cultural and ideological barriers between Americans and the American Indians cannot ever be completely lifted.
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