275 Winkfield: Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss

Kayla Orthman

Religion is a key theme in The Female American, as the most recent reading has shown. Religion is the basis which Unca Eliza Winkfield uses to manipulate the Indigenous tribe into believing the same things that she does and ultimately gain something from them.

Objectively, Winkfield has pure intentions. She claims that she wishes to spread the religion that she has been raised to believe is the only way to truly be happy. However, the way in which she chooses to go about this, coupled with how she continuously refers negatively to the Natives’ culture, is incredibly disrespectful and arrogant.

“…by keeping them ignorant of who I was, or how I came to them, I might preserve a superiority over them, sufficient to keep them in awe, and to excite their obedience.”


Despite what Unca says or even believes herself to be doing, her underlying motive is to control the Natives through spreading her religion. She purposefully manipulates them, calls them “ignorant and deluded,” and refers to their religion as “absurd.” This begs the question: what makes a religion absurd? Aren’t all belief systems, to some extent, absurd? They all require faith, believing in something that you cannot necessarily see. What makes her religion any more believable than that of the Natives? Because she has the Bible and they don’t?

Winkfield uses her their lack of knowledge of European culture against them to obtain a moral high ground. One might believe that she could have more respect for their culture, being someone who has a connection to it. But she was not raised among the Indigenous people, instead being raised primarily by her Christian family, who encouraged her to put her trust in God and spread His word.

Unca finds herself in a helpless position in The Female American. She is deserted on an island with little knowledge of how to survive, her only solace being the writings of a hermit which she only meets once before his death. She is deprived of any human interaction, having only herself and the wilderness. She is forced to live off the land, rendering her vulnerable. Hence, when she is presented with an opportunity to gain an upper hand on the Natives using her religion, she takes it. She says it herself, she wants to “preserve a superiority” over them and “excite their obedience.” She believes what she’s doing to be morally correct, yes, but that does not change the fact that she is weaponizing her religion in order to gain something from them.

It could be argued that she does not want their undying obedience, as she declines their offer to be queen, and I would say she wants something else entirely. She wants the security of living in a colony, she wants to partake in their provisions, as is shown on page 124. She is simply using her religion as a means of getting what she wants.


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

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