1. This activity was created by Dr. Doug Rowlett from Houston Community College
System, Southwest Campus, Stafford, TX.
In nineteenth-century Salem the frontier was a distant place only to be read
about by most inhabitants, and interactions with living Native Americans
were few and far removed. The occasional Native American visitor to Salem
had become by Hawthorne's time a quaint relic, more curiosity than threat
in most people's minds.
However, residents did read about them in the newspapers and in popular
books and articles and were certainly aware of their place in the history of
New England, and there were still a few people alive during Hawthorne's early
years who could recount old tales from previous generations about "Indian depredations."
While Hawthorne never wrote the kinds of Indian-centered tales that Fenimore
Cooper did, a close examination of his stories and novels will show he did make
more use of Native Americans than is at first apparent.
Margaret B. Moore's book The
Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne provides useful information about Hawthorne's treatment of Native Americans.
Read the synopsis cited above and then examine The
Scarlet Letter for examples of Hawthorne's treatment of Native
Americans in the novel . Note that the forest and its natural inhabitants
are portrayed at times as dark, mysterious, and surely allied with the forces
of darkness and iniquity and at other times as noble, enduring, natural, and
even innocent. Consider how Hawthorne's attitude toward Indians in The
Scarlet Letter may have informed his thematic treatment of the duality
presented by God's Law on the one hand (civilized, restrained, white, and
Christian) and Nature's Law on the other (savage, passionate, dark, and pagan).
Review Ellen Knight's article on the Squaw
Satchem , the excerpt
of John Winthrop's Journal for June 1630 , and review some of the original
documents from the early Colonial period . What can you glean from these
documents about the attitudes of early colonists toward the Native Americans
they encountered? Now read Johnson's
critical commentary on The Scarlet Letter and the excerpt
from Colacurcio's The Province of Piety. Does Hawthorne's attitude
toward Native Americans in The Scarlet Letter seem to agree with or
to be at odds with the early colonists' perceptions of them? Is he mainly
sympathetic or antipathetic toward them?
Illustration by Frank T. Merrill of Shem Drownes Indian warrior weathervane that stood on top of the Province House in Boston
(courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
in Redefining American Literary History explores ". . . why, after
four centuries of contact, America's first traditional literatures have had
so little influence on our literary heritage." While his article deals mainly
with Thoreau, explore the Hawthorne In Salem Web Site to find materials pertaining
to Hawthorne to either support or refute his thesis that ". . . literary imaging
of native life, of which there has been so much, must not be confused with
literary assimilation of native imaginative traditions, of which there has
been too little."
Read Hawthorne's "The
Seven Vagabonds" and consider his thematic treatment of "vagabondage,"
in particular the repulsion and attraction he feels with regard to the tension
between duty versus freedom. Hawthorne
said at age 33 that "Our Indian races having reared no monuments, like
the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, when they have disappeared from the earth
their history will appear a fable, and they misty phantoms." . In other
communications to his contemporaries, he discusses or alludes to his attitudes
toward duty and freedom . Can his ambiguous attitude toward duty versus freedom
be found in other short stories and novels (particularly The Scarlet Letter)?
What does his attitude say to you about the place of the artist in the world
and the conflict between his duties and responsibilities and the role of creativity
and spontaneity in his life? Finally, explain the last sentence of "The Seven
Vagabonds": "Finally, with a pensive shadow thrown across my mind, yet emulous
of the light philosophy of my late companions, I joined myself to the Penobscot
Indian, and set forth towards the distant city."
2. Explore Activities Related to “Main-Street”
A.) Images of American Indians
Make some observations on the portrayal of American Indians and the Indian-White
relationship in these 19th century illustrations and art works. Categorize the
ways Indians are presented during this period. As you view the images, it's
important to remember that they present Indians through Euro-American imagination
and ideology. Consider the following questions while analyzing individual illustrations
or art works: What is emphasized in the work? What ideas and values are evident?
What emotions does the work appeal to or communicate?
In the oral cultures of American Indians, artwork serves as a visual language
that expresses the lives and worldviews of the people. Through signs and symbols,
function and form each work speaks or tells a story rich in history and belief.
Study the following images and observe on the form and design of each; consider
the materials, as well. Describe what you find aesthetically pleasing or interesting.
Explain how the object provides insight into the lifeways and culture, the beliefs
and values of the creator. Make note of symbols or decorative motifs that you
see as important or puzzling. In the 19th century, Euro-American ideas of "art"
defined American Indian creations as "craft"-expressions of the primitive or
naïve-not as sophisticated as the "high" art of the Western world. Do you agree?
Collectively, how might these works, tell a different story, and offer an alternative
view to the "official" white explanations of Indians and early American history?