Cultural Orphans in America

By Diana Loercher Pazicky | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Tales of Captivity and Adoption

The white man's God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. -- CHIEF SEATTLE

As the previous chapter explained, the xenophobia that manifested itself at the end of the eighteenth century was inseparable from racist attitudes toward the Indians. For the new nation struggling in the aftermath of the Revolution to define the meaning of America, the Indians represented a threat from within whereas the immigrants represented a threat from without. Both also served the purpose of scapegoats who, through their differences, consolidated the unity and power of the "natural aristocracy" -- the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant landholders who constituted the dominant culture. Displacing their post- revolutionary identification with orphanhood onto these scapegoats, the republican "fathers" resembled the oppressive monarch they had recently overthrown and institutionalized that resemblance in the form of the federal government. Both the dispossession of the Indians and the repression of the immigrants reflected the neocolonial posture of an insecure and frangible nation struggling to assert its identity, like an adolescent striving for manhood.

As the citizens of the republic struggled to carve out a new identity for themselves as Americans rather than colonial subjects, certain novels of the early nineteenth century expressed the dream life of the republic, transforming the quest for identity into a family drama that used the metaphor of orphanhood to raise the question of what it means to be American. The first ma

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