19 Août 2022
Hobomok is a work of historical fiction set in colonial New England. The events of the novel take place between 1629 and 1632 and concern the settlement of Plymouth and Salem, Massachusetts, by British-born Puritans, who are seeking religious freedom in the New World.
The novel's protagonist is a teenage girl named Mary Conant, who, forbidden by her father to marry a non-Puritan white man, leaves white society for Native American society. She marries Hobomok, an indigenous man who has been an ally to her family. The novel ends when Mary's white lover, believed to be dead, returns to the colony. Hobomok dissolves his marriage to Mary, enabling her to marry Charles and to be reintegrated into white colonial society.
The experience of being denied the education lavished on her brother sowed the seeds of a feminist consciousness in the young Lydia Maria Francis, as it would in two women’s rights leaders of the 1840’s who would acknowledge Child as a forerunner – Sarah Grimké and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Excluded as they were from the benefits that American democracy conferred on their male peers, middle – and upper-class white women often identified consciously or unconsciously with other excluded groups : black slavery and Indian genocide.
In the 1830s an awareness of being “bound with” black slaves in almost abolitionist movement. In the 1820s it led the women writers who helped shape the American historical novel to imagine alternatives to race war, genocide, and white male supremacy as modes of resolving the contradictions that riddled their society. Child’s career illustrates how closely the two phenomena are connected.
What dictates the plot of Hobomok is not its author’s awareness of racial issues, but her rebellion against patriarchy. The result is a revolutionary insight into the connection between male dominance and white supremacy. This insight suggested to Child the central theme of Hobomok and indeed of her entire life as a reformer and writer : interracial marriage, symbolizing both the natural alliance between white women and people of color, and the natural resolution of America’s racial and sexual contradictions. Thus, il we are to understand Homobok and the alternative vision of race and gender relations it introduces into American literature, we must take as our starting point the defiance of patriarchy which governs its fictional strategies.
Hobomok symbolizes the historic affinity between the female victims of male dominance and the nonwhite victims of European racism.
Child’s symbolism hints at the factors that create a natural alliance between white women and people of color : roots in similar matriarchal traditions, and a common victimization under European racism.
With Hobomok, as several critics have pointed out, Child has nevertheless succumbed to familiar white fantasy that the Indian will somehow disappear. Moreover, the happy ending she has provided represents a betrayal of the alliance with people of color which had allowed Mary to liberate herself from patriarchal oppression. It also belies the ideal of a mutually enriching cultural intermarriage, which Mary’s attraction to Hobomok and the symbolic fusion of her two lovers’ identities might suggest. Granted, Child does envisage assimilation in lieu of Indian genocide – and she is alone among early nineteenth-century novelists in doing so (though writers like William Byrd and Robert Beverly had advanced the idea in the eighteenth century). This said, her conception of assimilation amounts to cultural genocide. Only if Indians cease to be Indians, it implies, can they earn a place in the society that is dispossessing them. That is why Hobomok must go away , leaving his half-English son the questionable honor of joining white society.
In short, despite its insights into the connections between male dominance and white supremacy, and despite its daring revisions of patriarchal script, Child’s response to the call for an authentic national literature does not succeed in resolving the central contradictions of the American historical novel, nor those of American history itself : that white Americans win their political freedom at the expense of the Indians they exterminate and the Africans they enslave, and that they achieve their cultural independence by expropriating the cultures of the peoples they have systematically debased, devalorized, and deprived of an independent identity.
To rescue from oblivion the writers and activists who once fought to create a truly free and egalitarian American is a necessity. For the mission of constructing an alternative future goes hand in hand with the task of reconstructing an alternative past.
Carolyn L. Karcher
Elle s'engage dans la lutte contre l'esclavage et le génocide des Amérindiens. En 1833, elle publie le premier livre soutenant l'émancipation immédiate des esclaves, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans.