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Mark Twain, Indian Hater

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  • Rob
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2001
      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
      development.

      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
      Native cultures?

      In a word, no. As James W. Loewen explains in his book "Lies Across
      America":

      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.

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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