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Criticism Related to Indians in "Main-Street"

The following quotations are taken from Margaret B. Moore's The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1998. (courtesy of University of Missouri Press)

"Hawthorne's sketch, `Main-Street,' illustrates his grasp of [Salem's] history." (17) "The story in `Main-Street' is a very deft presentation of the history of Salem's first century. The teller says he wants to `call up the multiform and many-colored Past'. On the same street will be seen that past, in more or less chronological order from the leaf-strewn path of the Indians through the boundary-making, property-buying early residents to the great snow of 1717 which `swept over each man's metes and bounds and annihilated all the visible distinctions of human property.' As time went on, the Conants and the Masseys and others entered and saw an Eden in what had been a wilderness. Then the whole group of Puritans arrived, built their meetinghouse and their dwellings, had their children, and made their rules. To fight off the Indians whom they had displaced, they had their musters. (17) Moore believes Hawthorne's historical rendition can be "documented in the historical record" (Moore 17).

"The Indians also have a major part in his history from the time of stately Squaw Sachem and her second husband who rule the land, to the Indians who realize that the main street is no longer theirs, the `drunken Indians, himself a prince of the Squaw Sachem's lineage.' The process of civilization tramples `the wild woods, the wild wolf, and the wild Indians'" (18).

The passage of history in "Main-Street" is told through the words and cardboard cut-outs of a showman. "The past and present curiously intermingle. Wappacowet would have been surprised to see the East India Marine Society building on the very spot where the white man would be surprised to see the Indians dancing and shrieking in the woods" (21). "This is a chimney-corner history told by someone who is very aware of the impact of the advent of the Quakers; or of the witchcraft summer; or of the severity of the Puritan faith, which did not travel well in the time; or of the pathos of the Indian whom `Anglo-Saxon energy' had displaced to the periphery of the settlers' lives" (21).




Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11627/


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