254 The Princess War: A Feminist Saga

Mason Masotta

The love story of Unca Eliza Winkfield’s parents is a particularly charming one in an era so filled with violence and territorial acquisition. Though it may have been a long time ago, one thing about their romance is made very clear: Indigenous women were powerhouses of their communities. (Well, at least those of royal bloodline for sure.)

In a scene that could easily have been ripped straight from Game of Thrones, Winkfield’s father is lured into the woods to be convinced to marry Alluca. When he refuses, citing his love for Unca as the reason, he is attacked by a group of men working under her and drinks poison instead of betraying his love (52). As he lay dying, he is found and saved by Unca who uses her knowledge of herbs in the forest to craft an antidote:

“The princess perceived his condition, and as they passed along gathered some flowers, the smell of which quickly dispelled the fumes, and fortified his brain so powerfully, that he was soon perfectly recovered, and his strength and understanding both entirely restored. Having returned the princess ten thousand thanks for thus giving him life a second time, they walked slowly homewards” (53).

Here we have a powerful and influential leader of her tribe and community, practically ordering an assassination on her sister’s husband to be. In this situation he is the stereotypical “damsel in distress” who at the last second is saved by the clever young heroine. It is a complete role reversal that plays out almost like a contemporary feminist fairy tale. These women do not take orders from the men, but take charge and have plans of their own; whether they be sinister or benevolent.

By looking at this story through a feminist lens, we can see the effect that particular patriarchal foundations can have on most mainstream stories. Most of the time this story would render the white man a conquering hero who easily escapes this dire situation, but instead Unca is given the spotlight as her husband’s savior. Even more satisfying is the natural reaction that these characters have to the unfolding situation. Today there are so many “in-jokes” and pandering to audiences about gender roles that make a comedy of tense situations. The white man is not portrayed as a bumbling fool or a weakling, but as an actual person who chooses death for his love (Which could be seen as a heroic act in of itself). This is, at its core, a power struggle between two sister princesses with Unca’s father as the prize in the middle. A powerful pro-feminist tale if I’ve ever heard one.


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

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