Forms of conquest: Indian conflict and the novel in the Americas

Enrique Lima
Dept. of Comparative Literature, Stanford University
August, 2006


This dissertation investigates the narrative devices by which the conflicts between native peoples and whites over the contested spaces and histories of the Americas become novelistic structure. I begin by examining the temporal structure of James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer . In my interpretation, Cooper's use of what I label proleptic nostalgia, a fictional temporality that blurs the present by evoking a future moment of retrospection, transformed the imaginary time of nineteenth-century U.S. territorial expansion and Indian removal into the real time of narrative. Moving from representational demands of the military conquest of Indians in Cooper's United States, to the effects on American literature of the close of that historical period, I proceed to analyze Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop . I argue that Cather's historical novel departs from the genre's traditional concern with narrating moments of social crisis by making the episode, as a narrative unit, the representative form of the historicity of the everyday, and, paradoxically, the novel inverts this logic to use the historicity of the everyday to disqualify Indians as historical agents. While the first two chapters of "Forms of Conquest" concentrate on Indian/white conflict in the U.S., the final two consider the consequences of continuing indigenous rebellion on Latin American novels. Chapter Three investigates the imaginary geography of the novels of the Mexican Revolution through a reading of Mart Luis Guzm's El uila y la serpiente . Set in the northern front, Guzm's novel inaugurates a literary tradition that privileged the north as the space of insurrection and effaced the insurgency in the south, which was primarily an Indian agrarian movement. By contrast, Miguel Angel Asturias' Hombres de ma , the subject of the final chapter, foregrounds the historical significance of Indian rebellion on Guatemalan society and literature through the development of a radical plotting technique. Rejecting the biographical plot, the hegemonic principle of narrative organization, Asturias' novel, I assert, takes its structure from Guatemala's peripheral experience of the modern capitalist system as an agricultural exporter, a context in which economic conflict over agricultural production is inseparable from cultural and sometimes armed conflict between Indians and whites.