Date

2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Whitley, Edward

Abstract

This dissertation explores the way Native American bodies were viewed and written about as sources of textual authority in nineteenth-century American literature, by both white authors and by Natives themselves. These Native authors wrote about their lived bodily experiences in ways that were often incomprehensible to their white audience. In particular, I study Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods, and Sarah Winnemucca’s Life Among the Piutes. The four authors, who span the nineteenth century, all attempt to undermine the notion that written and printed texts should serve as the ultimate source of authority in the United States. They present ways that printed texts can be repurposed to serve other functions, and who use non-European definitions of text to express authority. My primary concern is with how these repurposed and alternative texts and textual objects can be used to locate authority outside of the traditional sources of religious, racial, and gendered authority that had been established in colonial America. In each of the works studied, the boundaries between traditional printed texts and a variety of non-textual forms (the human body, performed songs, landscapes) become permeable as characters struggling for agency and authority attempt to repurpose these various forms into alternative texts that allow them to construct alternate sources of authority. This project seeks to further expand the rhetorical space these authors open by looking at instances where mistranslations or misunderstandings are brought to light through the exchange of text and the body, text and the landscape, and text and oral culture, with the intention of specifically questioning ideas of what constitutes “legitimate” text and authority, and the ways in which nineteenth-century authors engaged with the nation’s troubled history of white-Native relations through these authorial repurposings.

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