272 God Complex Much?

Emily Philbrook

Identity development is one of the most complex human experiences that is still rarely understood, but often begins with the understanding of group identity and a sense of belonging within these groups. In the 1760s, the development of racial identity leaned heavily on the assumption of binary races. An individual was either purely European or perceived as an inferior race. Winkfield, being of a Native-American and English father, moved away from her Native roots as a child, and was brought up in her father’s homeland. This meant that she never learned of her Native heritage or culture and was effectively forced to adopt the mainstream culture of colonial England in order to assimilate without disrupting her education or her family.

Once arriving on the island, Winkfield’s forced dominant identity is shifted, and her English heritage no longer has to be the only identity she subscribes to. Yet, she feels compelled to force her religion on Natives. After always being made to feel superior to others in an Euro-centric culture, she now places herself in a position of power, religiously, among the Natives, despite her ethnic ties, because she believes herself to be better, as she is half-European. This complicated internal complex comes to fruition when she realizes, in order to survive, she must live amongst the Natives, but instead of revealing her true identity, she continues to use religion to shield that she is, in fact, equal to them.

“By keeping them ignorant of who I was, or how I came to them, I might preserve a superiority over them,” (P.118, Winkfield). Despite the ease with which she could simply become her true self and thrive in Native culture with her appearance and linguistics, she chooses a superior position in her new society. This is largely because the culture of Europe, specifically England, is exclusive to anyone outside of the traditional race, and creates this sense of hierarchy that Winkfield creates. Religion is less of a conscious conversion choice here, and simply, more of a vessel for which Winkfield can assert a level of dominance over what she earlier names as Native “docile disposition” on page 92.  She is attempting to replicate the society that she grew up in, using religion as a guide, and this is exactly how colonial encounters began to create a caste system based on race in New America, stealing the precedent set in Europe.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Emily Philbrook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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