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The Primitive Mystique : Romance and Realism in the Depiction of the Native Indian in English-Canadian Fiction

by Retzleff, Marjorie Anne

Abstract (Summary)
Although several critics since the nineteenth century have written about the variety of interpretations of the native Indian in English-Canadian literature, no one has yet devoted a full-length study to the way the Indian is depicted in fiction alone. This dissertation thus examines a large cross-section of adult long fiction and investigates the degree to which the modes of romance and realism and the genres of romance and novel have informed these depictions.

The dissertation is organized according to four major topics: love, religion, fighting, and community life. Each of these is divided into appropriate sub-topics, organized along roughly chronological lines. The chapter about love is the longest and focuses on fiction in which a white person and an Indian marry or have a love relationship, either potential or consummated. The chapter about religion focuses on fiction about the various kinds of relationships between native religions and Christianity. The chapter about fighting analyzes fiction about inter-tribal fighting, fighting along the frontier, and fighting between modern Indians and white authority. The chapter on community life focuses on fiction describing daily Indian life, from the pre-contact community to the contemporary reserve.

Several conclusions emerge. First, the basic attitude to Indians reflects prevailing social attitudes. Second, the choice and use of genre are influenced to a significant degree by literary fashion. But more specific conclusions also emerge. Most importantly, romance is the dominant genre and romantic conventions of primitivism pervade almost all serious fiction on the subject, from variations on the Pastoral and Noble Savage conventions to a recent development approaching fertility myth. Instances of the realistic-novel as such are relatively rare, but realism of a documentary sort is frequent in romances which focus on social issues and is present for verisimilitude or ornamentation in many other romances. Finally,the best romances tend to have a sound basis in observable fact, just as the good novels have the subjective psychological dimension provided by romantic convention.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Denham, W. Paul

School:University of Saskatchewan

School Location:Canada - Saskatchewan

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:canadian literature social attitudes

ISBN:

Date of Publication:07/18/2008

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