Hope Leslie: Or, Early Times

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

" Even Hope, a good and decent woman, cannot bear to think that her own sister is married to Magawisca's brother. "God forbid!' exclaimed Hope, shuddering as if a knife had been plunged in her bosom. 'My sister married to an Indian!'" (Sedgwick 2-27). In fact, she pleads with her sister to leave her husband and the only life she knows and loves, to return to the white world. She does not take her sister's happiness into account, only that she is living with Godless savages. Sadly, even Hope cannot use her powers of reason to see that her sister is infinitely happier with the only people she has known since her capture. This does not make her sister a "heathen," but Hope cannot see that. She indicates that no matter how enlightened a person is, or wants to be, they always harbor prejudices, and many of these prejudices are brought on by societal beliefs, rather than real facts and figures. Hope knows Magawisca is not an evil person, and can see her sister is happy and in love, yet because of society's fear of the Natives, she cannot believe that a "Christian" such as her sister could possibly lower herself to live with savage Indians. Sadly, she cannot see that it is often the "Christians" who act as savages, and that is one of the morals of Sedgwick's work, to show that Puritanical mores were often not the right beliefs.

Always, the biggest difference between these two women is their race. If Magawisca had been born white, her future would have been far different, and she might have won Everell's heart. She certainly remained in it throughout his life. She was brave, beautiful, and strong. Interestingly, everyone loves and respects Hope, she is the perfect heroine, while everyone distrusts Magawisca, even though she saved Everell's life. She is "tawny," and not to be trusted, even though her heart is good and decent, just like Hope's. In the end, Magawisca's fate is intertwined with Hope's and she relies on hope to set her free. The women are more alike than ever, because Magawisca also proves to be unselfish when she tells Everell and Hope they have always been fated to be together, and she cannot stay with them. She is noble and wise, and knows Hope and Everell better than they know themselves. They respect her, and that is the first real respect she has been shown by the whites. She commands the respect of her own people, and finally, the whites understand just how strong and good she really is. Thus, Magawisca is the tragic heroine of this novel, because she cannot live with Everell, who she loves, but she does get to spend her life with her family, who she also loves. She gives up part of herself, literally, to save Everell, and she is still seen as the enemy by the Puritans. She and Hope are alike, but they can never be the same because of their backgrounds, and their races. Magawisca is just as good and decent as Hope, but the Puritans, except for Hope and Everell, will never admit that, or even admit the two women have similarities. All they can see are the differences that come between them, and it makes Magawisca a tragic figure, because she represents how the natives were caught between two worlds, and could not survive in either. The whites drove them from their lands, forced them to turn their backs on their culture and society, and literally rearranged their entire lives or killed them. The natives are the tragic characters in this novel, and the underlying theme of the novel is how mistreated and misunderstood they really were. Even the hero notes that Magawisca's race is more important than her heart and soul. Everell notes, "Yes, Digby, I might have loved her -- might have forgotten that nature had put barriers between us'" (Sedgwick 2-69). Thus, Everell allows society, and society's mores to dictate how he should feel and act, and Sedgwick illustrates the problems with these ideas of society when she makes Magawisca such a tragic and believable heroine.

The author uses her understanding of Puritan morals and women of the time to create quite believable characters who act according to their upbringing, but show signs of creativity, pathos, and psychological well being. Hope is a good and decent human being who can tell the difference between right and wrong and acts according to her heart, and so is Magawisca. They could have been sisters in another lifetime, but in Puritan times, there were too many barriers between them. In this novel, whether it is right or wrong, all the power and status lie with the whites. They have the power over the Natives, as the trial for Magawisca clearly shows. Many of the Puritan leaders did not have the best interests of the Indians at heart, and because they wielded all the power, they could drive the Indians away and push them further and further away from civilization. They also had the power to welcome the Natives into their world, but they did not do that. Even Magawisca, the orphan of the Indian Wars is not welcomed into the home as a homeless and needy child, but as a servant. Only because of her race and sex is she powerless, and Sedgwick shows the folly of both those ideas when she makes Magawisca an "Indian angel." She is showing that the whites do not understand or care about the Natives; they only care to wield their power over them, and make them slaves or servants, or eradicate them from their lives and towns.

Hope and Everell live "happily ever after," but the natives do not, and that is the other major difference between the two women. Hope looks forward to a good life with her new husband, while all Magawisca can look forward to is the eventual destruction of her people and the only way of life they know. In addition, while Hope helps Magawisca escape, which is certainly the right thing to do, she still does not fully accept her sister's happiness with the Indians. She would rather have Faith come back and live an unhappy existence with the whites. This is the ultimate way the Puritans and others looked at the Indians of the time. They were violent and bothersome, and they were not "good" Indians unless they had been Americanized and Christianized. For example, while critics of the time were generally quite favorable toward the novel, they did not appreciate Magawisca's character and her sympathetic portrayal. One wrote,

"From our knowledge of her race," the reviewer explained, "we should have looked in any place for such a character, rather than in an Indian wigwam." In their view, the romance genre did not give Sedgwick permission to create a heroine who, they believed, could not actually exist: "Magawisca is the first genuine Indian angel, that we have met with" (Saulsbury 357).

Thus, critics of the time may have appreciated Sedgwick's style and motives, but they did not appreciate her "good" Indian characters, and did not believe the two words were synonymous. Another critic notes that often, Sedgwick's depiction of Faith is a prejudiced as her description of Magawisca at times. She writes of Faith, "She and her Indian husband finally succeed in escaping to the wilderness, the only interracial couple in the frontier romance to achieve a happy ending. Faith is not the novel's white heroine, however; she is more expendable than Hope Leslie in terms of the plot, and-depicted as almost a moron -- in terms of character as well" (Barnett 119). This critical discord allows her work to be even more meaningful today. From comments such as these, readers can fully understand the depth of distrust and hatred there was between the whites and the Natives, and how it seemed there could be no hope of reconciliation or a change of heart on either side.

Obviously, this novel is not received the same way today, as it was when it was written, as many critics' reactions have shown. At the time, the novel was meant for young girls, which was why its' basic theme was historical romance. The ideals of many people have also changed, and the rigid prejudice of the Puritans in the book now seems tame and old-fashioned. Thus, a reader today will see far different characters that a reader of 1827 would. Then, many of the readers probably sympathized with the views of the Puritans and the racial views of the Natives. In fact, some felt Sedgwick was far too sympathetic toward the natives, while today her writing, although certainly more open than most, still seems prejudicial and racist. Underlying her understanding are still ideas that the Natives are savage, violent, and even have "exotic" looks that are unappealing to most whites. She writes of…