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Date of Award

1976

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Arts (D.A.)

Department

English

Abstract

The American Indian has functioned metaphorically in American literature at least since his characterization as an agent of Satan in the captivity narratives of the 17th century. From then until now, the Indian has tended to represent either the noble savage of the primitive heathen. Moreover, literary criticism dealing with these images has shown a primary interest in the historical accuracy and fairness of portrayal of the Indian and his way of life. That is to say, relatively little critical attention has dealt with the Indian as metaphor, examining how the Indian functions figuratively in the literature. Two excellent studies representative of this historical, literal approach are Roy Harvey Pearce’s The Savages of America and Elémire Zolla’The Writer and the Shaman. While neither study wholly excludes consideration of the Indian’s figurative function in the literature, each subordinates close analysis of individual works to a discussion of broad, historical fluctuations in stereotypes images of the American Indian. This historical view, however, is of little help in appraising the metamorphic function of Pocahontas and other Indians in two comparable and influential works published early in the 10th century. The Indian material in William Carlos Wlliam’s In the American Grain (1925) and Hart Crane’s The Bridge (1930) is not well served by a critical reliance on hackneyed categories like the “noble savage” and “primitive innocence,” or reliance on negative appraisals of how “real” Indians have fared in American literature. Both In the American Grain and The Bridge call for a kind of criticism that will examine rather systematically their use of the Indian as metaphor. Such an examination will reveal striking parallels in the way both authors handle the Indian material to shape and express their respective visions of the state of the American culture.

Pages

30

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