POCAHONTAS'S DAUGHTERS: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture by Mary V. Dearborn

POCAHONTAS'S DAUGHTERS: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As Dearborn points out in her often enlightening study of ethnic women's literature and what it tells us about American culture, ""Literature by and about those who seem to be on the edges of American culture can perhaps best represent what happens within that culture."" One only has to remember ""civilization"" as seen through the eyes of Huck Finn to see that truth. Carrying her argument one logical step further, Dearborn posits that ethnic American women writers are and have been ""marginal"" because of their sex and their ethnic background. Thus, they can offer doubly unusual insights into America past and present. Using the story of Pocahontas, whom she claims is America's first ""ethnic"" heroine, as the myth that would provide certain themes--mediation, denial of ethnic identity; miscegenation, intermarriage, the equation of ""barbarianism"" with sexual abandonment--in writings both by and about ethnic women, Dearborn examines a host of American women writers, forgotten to famous. From Mrs. Harriet E. Wilson's 1859 novel Our Nig to Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans (which, Dearborn claims, ""represents a culmination of the ethnic female literary tradition, for its brings together all the thematic concerns associated with ethnicity and recasts them in terms of gender""), her observations are well-balanced, thoughtful and precise. One wishes, though, that Dearborn had thought twice before writing that ""Americans are in fact all descended from immigrants"" and then using as her central symbol a Native American--ethnic, by this point, yes; immigrant only by a long stretch. Nonetheless, a worthwhile addition to the study of American literature and American women.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press