- Anglo-American Women Writers and Representations of Indianness, 1629–1824 by Cathy Rex
“Anglo-American Women Writers” is the most definite term in the title of Cathy Rex’s well-researched, thought-provoking study. “Representations” encompasses a variety of media—text, video, and, in a sort of second order of signification, depictions of material culture. “Indianness,” the principal object of representation, is aptly vague, pertaining variously to historical, fictional, and ideational Native Americans and persons of mixed race. Depictions of Indianness, in turn, serve to represent Anglo-America.
Each of Rex’s four chapters comprises two parts, juxtaposing analyses of “Iconography” and “Narrative.” The comparisons are not premised on intermedial relationships, in the sense that the works do not refer to or represent (as in ekphrasis) one another. When Rex announces her aim to demonstrate that “early American women writers co-opted and revised the prevalent images and ideas of Indianness of their times,” she is not suggesting that they were directly informed by visual representations but rather that visual and literary representations participated in related constructions of Indianness (pp. 7–8). Since the first section of each chapter focuses on visual media, the comparisons that Rex establishes are unidirectional rather than reciprocal. That is, her analysis of the visual works informs [End Page 531] her analysis of the literary ones, more than vice-versa. Thus even with the extended, detailed analysis of visual images, this book is appropriately shelved in the American literature section of the library.
The general dynamic across the visual and textual media conversations is that the textual representations provide a sort of animation of the one-dimensional images. The first two chapters oppose versions of the seal of the Massachussetts Bay Colony (and later Commonwealth) with narratives of captivity. Chapter one features an encounter between two figures that have crossed paths in early American scholarship several times but perhaps never stopped to speak: the Indian on the seals of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which first appeared in 1629, and James Printer, the Nipmuck Christian or Praying Indian who was most memorably depicted (albeit without being named) in Mary Rowlandson’s 1682 captivity narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. The seventeenth-century seals depict an Indian holding a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other and making the same request as the “Man of Macedonia” does of the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:9): “Come over and help us” (p. 29). Rex intriguingly suggests that this figuration of imperial fantasy in its various versions and revisions—an instance of a representation of Indianness serving as a symbol for the colonizers—“exposes the fraught and fluctuating conceptions of race, gender, and cultural superiority that undergirded Anglo-European understanding of identity” (p. 21). By contrast, James Printer, one of two historical Native Americans whose representations are analyzed in this book—the other is the woman best known as Pocahontas—became a “living, breathing enactment of the identity issues” that beset the English colonists as they became colonial Americans (p. 21). He was a Christian Indian who aligned with the enemy Indians during King Philip’s War, after which he returned to his position in the Cambridge printer Samuel Green’s shop, where in a now-famous irony, he set the type for Rowlandson’s narrative. For Rex, Printer epitomizes the “almost but not quite”—Homi Bhabha’s phrase, which Rex invokes repeatedly—status of the acculturated native (p. 21).
During the revolutionary period, the figure of the Indian on the Massachusetts seal was temporarily replaced by a colonial solider, in Paul Revere’s “Sword-in-Hand” seal (1775–1780). In chapter two, Rex argues that Ann Eliza Bleecker’s The History of Maria Kittle (1793), a fictionalization of a historical captivity, undercuts this ideal of colonial manhood, employing representations of the savagery of Indian men in order to highlight the incompetence and irresponsibility of colonial ones, “foreground[ing] the experiences of women in moments of historical, national crises...