276 Imperialism & The Female American

Lily Cloutier

Imperialism is a key theme in The Female American, and in this week’s reading, we can see how imperialism works in contrast to colonialism. We know that the term “colonialism” conjures up images of violence and exploitation. Although I think there could be a case made for the term colonialism, what has been seen is an outsider (Unca) in a foreign land instilling her own values through comparatively orderly, imperialistic, means.

Since Unca has been stranded on the island, in contact with the Native population who visits the island, there have been constant references to her “tawny complexion” and ability to speak native languages. This keys us into the fact that she’s highly aware that both these factors would give her certain credibility among the Native population, making it easier to assert herself and her beliefs. As we learn later, Christianity:

“I thought the extraordinariness of the event, my speaking to them, would appear miraculous, fill them with awe, and prejudice their minds greatly in my favor of what I should say to them.” (92).

Of course, these beliefs and values don’t come from thin air: they’re something learned from her own Euro-American culture and family. I think it’s important to note here that she specifically favors her uncle’s (a priest) values when it comes to how the religion is practiced and portrayed, even turning to his “word” when she runs into trouble.

When she comes into contact with the Natives for the first time, she’s doing so with the idea of “…convert[ing] them from their idolatry” (91). Her narrative during her exposure with the Natives on the island, when they’re approaching the idol, paints the Native religion as something that needs to be fixed or could be improved upon. During the first encounter, she uses the education she’s had about the Natives to frame her knowledge of Christianity through their own religion (vaguely pretending to be a figure of their religion), making them far more willing to listen to the Christian values she’s putting out there. In effect, this allows Unca to reframe what she’s doing as “teaching”, rather than call it what it is: a show of American imperialist tendencies directed towards Natives.


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

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