Abstract

As a response to critics who lament Helen Hunt Jackson’s failure to attribute sufficient agency to her Indian protagonists, this essay puts Jackson’s 1884 historical romance, Ramona, in dialogue with Charles Dudley Warner’s “Story of the Doe” and the habeas corpus case of Standing Bear v. Crook. I suggest that Jackson, outraged by the imprisonment and relocation of the Ponca tribe, reworked Warner’s tale of human-animal violence as a means of showing that the legal subject produced by late-nineteenth-century U.S. Indian policy was not an autonomous, rational “person” but rather a creature closer to Giorgio Agamben’s later notion of “bare life”: a quasi-animal life stripped of political ties. While Jackson anticipates critiques of her seemingly sentimental story by diagnosing excesses of feeling as a threat to political conscience and agency, she embraces an affective strategy by the novel’s close, narrating hopelessness, depression, and exhaustion as effects of the structural position of the disenfranchised and the systematic violation of native sovereignty. I ultimately argue that Jackson’s text reveals the biopolitics of the Indian Agency bureaucracy, in which optimism, self-maintenance, and community building were deemed incompatible with the minimal right to the barest life, as protected by habeas corpus.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-7438
Print ISSN
2166-742X
Pages
pp. 225-252
Launched on MUSE
2014-09-29
Open Access
No
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