Mark Twain, Indian Hater
- Indian Comics Irregular #59
Many people think "Huckleberry Finn" is America's greatest novel and
Mark Twain America's greatest writer. Perhaps, but as I've argued
before, Twain made the slave Jim a stereotype--a minstrel-show
darky--while crafting his anti-racist message. In that respect,
"Huck Finn" seems little different from modern entertainment
featuring black hoodlums, Latino servants, or Indian mascots.
Twain's supporters defend the stereotypes in "Huck Finn" with
tortured arguments--along the lines of "blacks really did speak that
poorly" or "blacks really were that ignorant." But Twain's racial
problems go far beyond Jim's portrayal in "Huck." As I recently
learned, he also attacked Indians mercilessly in his writings.
A representative example comes from "The Noble Red Man" (1870):
He is ignoble--base and treacherous, and hateful in every way.
Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue.
The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming
selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest
Is it possible someone who wrote these words--who called Indians "the
scum of the earth!"--WASN'T a blatant racist? Judge for yourself.
The evidence is at http://www.bluecorncomics.com/twain.htm.
The "Good Indian"
If portrayals like Twain's "Noble Red Man" and his murderous Injun
Joe are the worst America has to offer, are the legends of
Pocahontas, Squanto, and Sacagawea the best? Do these brave, noble,
self-sacrificing Indians represent all that's good and worthy about
In a word, no. As James W. Loewen explains in his book "Lies Across
To soften invasion narratives, conquerors often highlighted the
stories of natives who helped them. Americans might call these
"Tonto figures" after the Lone Ranger's famous sidekick--the
archetypal "good Indian," always ready to help track down the "bad
Indians" and outlaws who menaced whites on the frontier.
Our national culture particularly heroifies the first two "good
Indians," Pocahontas in Virginia and Squanto in Massachusetts, who
became famous foundation figures in our origin myths.
Yes, and the same applies to our myth-making apparatus today.
Whether it's in movies, on TV shows, or in comic books, we still tend
to depict only what's "safe" in our multicultural society. For more
on the subject, go to http://www.bluecorncomics.com/tonto.htm.
A Harmless Stereotype?
People often say "It's just a story" when excusing lies in historical
fiction. My favorite anecdote on that point comes from an LA Times
column written after Disney's "Pocahontas":
When a portrait of a crinkly eyed Smith was shown on "Biography,"
our daughter Sarah, age 7, said, "Oh, my God! He's got a beard!
He's almost bald!"
When a portrait of the Indian princess was shown, Sarah took one
look at the somewhat plump, round-faced child and declared: "That
is not Pocahontas."
During one commercial break, however, she exclaimed, "There they
are," pointing triumphantly to the screen, where the voluptuous
Indian maiden and surfer John were indeed frolicking. It was an
ad for the animated movie.
Native Hot Spot
Annmarie Sauer sent me pictures from her fact-finding mission to Big
Mountain, one of the most controversial places in Indian Country.
I've posted them online at http://www.bluecorncomics.com/gallery.htm.
Take a look to see what's going on.
Blue Corn Comics