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Suffering Childhood in Early America

Violence, Race, and the Making of the Child Victim

Anna Mae Duane

Publication Year: 2010

Nothing tugs on American heartstrings more than an image of a suffering child. Anna Mae Duane goes back to the nation’s violent beginnings to examine how the ideal of childhood in early America was fundamental to forging concepts of ethnicity, race, and gender. Duane argues that children had long been used to symbolize subservience, but in the New World those old associations took on more meaning. Drawing on a wide range of early American writing, she explores how the figure of a suffering child accrued political weight as the work of infantilization connected the child to Native Americans, slaves, and women.

In the making of the young nation, the figure of the child emerged as a vital conceptual tool for coming to terms with the effects of cultural and colonial violence, and with time childhood became freighted with associations of vulnerability, suffering, and victimhood. As Duane looks at how ideas about the child and childhood were manipulated by the colonizers and the colonized alike, she reveals a powerful line of colonizing logic in which dependence and vulnerability are assigned great emotional weight. When early Americans sought to make sense of intercultural contact—and the conflict that often resulted—they used the figure of the child to help displace their own fear of lost control and shifting power.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. v-7


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Writing is never as solitary an exercise as it would appear. This book would never have come into the world if it were up to me alone to bring it forth. Rather, my thinking about this topic has benefited from the generosity, kindness, and humor of colleagues and good friends. My largest professional debt is owed to Lenny Cassuto, who, as a mentor and as a friend, has ...

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INTRODUCTION. Suffering Childhood in Early America

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pp. 1-18

Little Eva wrung tears and won hearts because she suffered. Her death at the very heart of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 international best seller, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, inspired thousands of commemorative artifacts, dozens of performances, innumerable sobs, and for many readers, an emotional and political sea change. In the novel, little Eva literally distributes ...

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CHAPTER ONE. Children in the Hands of Satan: Captivity, Witch Trials, and the Dangerous Child

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pp. 19-57

When Henry Spellman, a boy about thirteen years old, finds himself abandoned in an almost unimaginable wilderness in 1609, his reaction seems — to modern readers at least — strikingly understated. “Unknone to me,” he informs the reader, “he [ John Smith] had sold me to him [the little Powhatan] for the town called Powhatan and le[ft] me with him.”1 If the boy expected better treatment than he received at the hands of his protector, it’s difficult to discern from...

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CHAPTER TWO. This Infant State: The Child Nation and Infanticide in the Early Republic

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pp. 58-96

The violence depicted in Maria Kittle’s 1780 Indian captivity narrative clarifies the stakes in a conflict that had been muddied by unreliable promises. The Kittle household had received multiple assurances from their supposedly honorable Indian neighbors that they would not be harmed. Not long into the narrative, those assurances are proven murderously false. ...

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CHAPTER THREE. Pregnancy and the New Birth: Reproduction, Performance, and Infantilizing Republican Mothers

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pp. 97-124

Thomas Paine’s uneasy fusion of mother and child in the 1783 American Crisis XIII reveals anxieties about reproducing the republic: Never, I say, had a country so many openings to happiness as this. Her setting out in life, like the rising of a fair morning, was unclouded and promising. Her cause was good. Her principles just and liberal. Her temper...

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CHAPTER FOUR. The Revolutionary Child: Slavery, Affective Contracts, and the Future Perfect

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pp. 125-164

The previous chapter discussed how pregnancy functioned as a potent site for exploring the possibility of white women’s consent in two popular late eighteenth-century seduction novels. Ultimately, the fatal pregnancies of protagonists Charlotte and Eliza infantilized the women themselves, rendering them utterly at the mercy of bodies they could not control. Infantilizing narratives also helped to articulate the nightmarish ...

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EPILOGUE. The Materials and Metaphors of Schoolwork

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pp. 165-176

Suffering Childhood in Early America has focused on the new meanings that emerge from early American encounters with the suffering child — both material and metaphorical. Throughout this study, I have argued that placing the child at the foreground of literary and cultural analysis forces us to confront the space in between — the space between the literal and the figurative, between the symbol and the person whose experience was ...


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pp. 177-203


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pp. 205-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780820341989
E-ISBN-10: 0820341983
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820333830
Print-ISBN-10: 0820333832

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010