Indians, environment, and identity on the borders of American literature

Lindsey Claire Smith
School of the Arts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
July, 2006


This dissertation foregrounds boundary crossing among American Indians, African Americans, and Euramericans as a central feature of American literature. The authors discussed, including James Fenimore Cooper, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Leslie Marmon Silko, place this cross-cultural contact in nature, not only collapsing cultural and racial boundaries, but also complicating divisions between 'wilderness' and 'civilization.' Responding to contemporary theoretical approaches to race, culture, and nationhood, this dissertation points toward the multiple perspectives and cultures that distinguish American literature as well as highlights the role of geography in these critical discourses, forging a connection between ecological theory and ethnic studies. Whereas Euramerican writers demonstrate multi-racial coexistence on the frontier as idyllic yet fleeting due to national expansion, African American and Native writers reverse this model, identifying Black-Indian alliance as the source of resistance to colonization and environmental degradation. This study thereby probes the prominent roles that American Indians occupy in major American novels, not only as emblems of ecological acumen, but more important, as participants in cultural exchange that informs American identity.