Romantic and realistic conceptions of the Indian in American literature

Jeanne Dabney
Dept. of English, University of Wyoming
July, 2003


Examines the writings of Philip Freneau, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, William Gilmore Simms, Mark Twain, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Hamlin Garland. Concludes: :The Early idealization of the Indian in American romantic fiction was an outgrowth (...) of the exaltation of the primitive state of man (...) in contrast with the ills and assorted vices that civilization is prone to develop (...) [and that] running parallel to this ennobling concept (...) are devastating descriptions of the bloodthirsty, cruel savage (...) [which] can actually be considered a romanticizing of horror (...) is found in the same works that are criticized for being unnaturally romantic in the treatment of the Indian." Points out varying knowledge and experience of authors with Indians and cites these as factors in treatment.