Academic journal article Intertexts

Sentimentalism, Interracial Romance, and Helen Hunt Jackson and Clorinda Matto De Turner's Attacks on Abuses of Native Americans in Ramona and Aves Sin Nido

Academic journal article Intertexts

Sentimentalism, Interracial Romance, and Helen Hunt Jackson and Clorinda Matto De Turner's Attacks on Abuses of Native Americans in Ramona and Aves Sin Nido

Article excerpt

Helen Hunt Jackson and Clorinda Matto de Turner's novels Ramona (1884) and Aves sin nido (Birds Without a Nest, 1889) share much in common. Perhaps most importantly, both authors wrote their novels as part of a program of advocacy for Native Americans. In this essay, I argue that in their activist novels, both authors employ the tropes of sentimentalism and interracial romance to criticize the ideology that defended the mistreatment of Native Americans. (2) I must qualify this statement by saying that while in certain ways sentiment and interracial romance function hand in hand in these works, in other ways they work independently. In other words, one should not confuse the cultural work they do, (3) and I will thus draw an analytic distinction between the function of sentiment and interracial romance in both novels. After discussing the ways in which these novels utilize these strategies, I will discuss the discursive limitations of the criticisms that Ramona and Aves sin nido propose, i. e., how their attacks fail. In making these claims, I will keep in mind that while the two novels utilize similar rhetorical strategies in order to criticize race-based oppression, the cultural work done by the two novels is distinct in response to the particular socio-cultural needs of the United States and Peru. Specifically, Ramona criticizes United States expansionism and Indian dispossession, while Aves sin nido promotes a modernizing agenda in favor what it understands as barbaric modes of victimizing Indians. With these differences in mind, I will devote part of my discussion to detailing Jackson and Matto's particular national and historical contexts.

Oftentimes, those doing comparative analyses of Inter-American literatures come to an impasse when trying to find common ground between North American and Latin American texts. The fact that the United States and Latin American nations have extremely divergent histories has caused this difficulty, and these differences have become more obvious in our contemporary world, in which the United States and its southern neighbors have an antagonistic relationship and differ greatly in terms of culture as well as statures and aims in international politics. These differences find, of course, iteration in the nations' respective literatures, and the consequent incommensurability has prompted a number of critics, such as the Cuban poet and essayist Roberto Fernandez Retamar, to assert that comparing the literatures of the Americas is naive and impossible. (4) Retamar is correct to point out the significance of the Americas' divergent histories and the challenges that difference presents to comparatists. However, the problem is not insurmountable, as discussing parallel rhetorical strategies, such as the similar ways in which Jackson and Matto employ sentiment and interracial romance in Ramona and Aves sin nido, does allow the critic to find significant links. Indeed, there is a growing body of scholarship that fruitfully compares Latin American and North American texts. (5) Furthermore, I would contend that one can think of the incommensurability that Retamar points out as less of a hindrance than a tool because when one thinks of these differences in conjunction with rhetorical similarities, it allows the critic to better conceptualize the specificities of the nations in the Americas. In other words, by comparing rhetorical and generic links in New World literatures in a historicist vein, one can bring into greater view the diverse ways in which the nations in the Americas formed, and in keeping with this claim, I devote much attention in this essay to discussing the particular historical contexts that produced these two novels. In sum, I intend for this essay to be a part of this growing body of comparative scholarship and to build on work like Debra J. Rosenthal's by further analyzing the relationship between Ramona and Aves sin nido. At a time when demographic shifts in the Americas are making it more and more difficult to claim strict delineations between North American and Latin American culture, such comparative work is nothing short of necessary as it begins to establish dialogue between the literary works these nations have produced as well as between the scholars that work on them. …

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