In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS 431 terms by continual use rather than by formal definitions, forcing readers to come to understand them intuitively rather than logically. But both books are valuable contributions to the growing body of western American lit­ erature. Contentious, tricky, and contradictory, they will delight and madden you by turn, and, always, they will make you think. The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. By Susan Scheckel. P rinceton, N .J.: P rinceton U n iversity Press, 1998. 197 pages, $49.95/$l-6.95. Reviewed by Su san B ern ardin U niversity o f M innesota, Morris A recent addition to studies ofnational fonnation through the lenses ofU.S. popularculture, The Insistence oftheIndianfocuses on the post-Revolutionary era, “when attempts to articulate a coherent narrative of national identity and to define the status and rights of Indians within the United States intersected to create a pattern that reveals much about the forces driving both projects” (3-4). Drawing on theorists of nationhood and literature such as Homi Bhabha, Eric Sundquist, and Benedict Anderson, Scheckel argues that “the par­ ticular moral and political problems posed by American Indians during the first half of the nineteenth century participated, at a fundamental level, in the pro­ ject of U.S. national identity formation and its ultimate ambivalence” (154). Framing her study with Ernst Renan’s formulation of how a nation’s originary acts of violence must be both forgotten and selectively recalled, Scheckel con­ siders the ways in which U.S. cultural documents imaginatively “manage” the nation’s originary (and ongoing) violence against American Indians. In counter­ point to Cheryl Walker’s Indian Nation (1997), which considers treatment of U.S. nation formation in early Native American literary texts, Scheckel’s work delineates the “insistent and destabilizing presence of ‘the Indian’ in nineteenth-century popular culture—novels, melodramas, captivity nanatives, autobiographies, tour guides—in order to show that even when Indians were marginalized . . . they continued, through their very exclusion, to frame the meaning of the nation” (151). By pairing the development of national Indian policy with the develop­ ment ofliterary nationalism in the early 1800s, Scheckel shows how both legal and literary discourse involved self-conscious efforts to resolve the fissures within America’s story of itself. Like Forrest Robinson’s In Bad Faith (1986) and other pivotal works in western American literary studies, Scheckel simi­ larly views popular culture as a site for both raising and evading crucial and unresolved contradictions between the nation’s founding narrative and its practices, such as the forced removal of Indians in the 1830s. Individual chap­ ters in Scheckel’s work forward her argument by providing wonderfully delin­ eated readings of a variety of “texts”—ranging from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers and Pocahontas dramas to Mary Jemison’s “as-told-to” captivity 4 3 2 WAL 3 5 .4 WINTER 2 0 01 narrative, Black Hawk’s “autobiography,” and guidebooks and artwork in the U.S. Capitol. In her strongest chapters, Scheckel reveals not only the inter­ play of popular and official rhetoric about Indians, but the interplay of gender and race in the construction of national identity. For example, she offers a mas­ terful reading ofhow guidebooks, produced for the U.S. Capitol visitor between the 18.30s and 1860s, enlisted citizens in a larger drama of U.S. history through its representation of Capitol commemorative artworks of American Indians which “made the political exclusion of Indians seem natural and necessary” (129). In this nuanced analysis, Scheckel links (although does not fully tease out) the “gendered construction of citizenry” enacted in this artwork with the construction of maternal and sexualized roles for Euro-American and Native American women in the other national origin stories covered in the book (139). When the West was East, U.S. legal and cultural texts staged efforts to pin down shifting and unstable boundaries of national identity. Though focused on the early nation, The Insistence of the Indian directs us toward the continued persistence of the “Indian” in U.S. popular culture and policy debates, thus underscoring how American Indians still “frame the meaning of the nation” (151). As such...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 431-432
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.