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Tied in nots: Great Britain, Native America, and the discursive creation of U.S. national subjects

Brett Barney, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Applying insights and approaches from postcolonial theories of subject formation and nationalism, in this dissertation I examine American literary nationalism as a phenomenon of the post-Revolutionary and post-War of 1812 periods. More specifically, I argue that during these two periods writers often participated in the construction of American subjectivity not by imagining themselves in the simple binary relationships of self/other that have often been propounded, but through intricate and paradoxical relationships of affiliation and difference in a triad of creole American, Native American, and European subjectivities. The first group of writers I examine—Thomas Jefferson, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, and Judith Sargent Murray—all produced their visions of America and Americans in the last decades of the eighteenth century, while the nation was still forming, and responded to similar challenges to American cohesion and sufficiency. In their own various ways, each did so by invoking and revising the network of correspondences and differences that existed among themselves, Native Americans, and Europeans/Britons. The second group of writers I examine—Washington Irving, Lydia Maria Child, and Charles Sealsfield—exploit the ambivalences of historical writing and writing “about” others to construct strategically advantageous versions of an American self. Finally, I look at the career of Samson Occom to suggest some of the ways in which the nationalist discourse has both constrained and enabled Native American participation in the creation of American subjectivity. Although U.S. nationals today feel less urgency to resolve difficulties inherent in imagining/maintaining a national identity, traces of the ambivalence that these early writers helped to create (and worked to manage) continue to inform conceptions of the American self. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Barney, Brett, "Tied in nots: Great Britain, Native America, and the discursive creation of U.S. national subjects" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3104603.