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Muting white noise: Revisionary Native American novelists

James Howard Cox, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In the first chapter of my dissertation, I theorize that a primary component of European/European American storytelling traditions about colonialism is the narrative of conquest, that is, a story that culminates in the imminent or completed absence of all the Native American characters of the authors' imaginations. In the ensuing chapters, I address how three late-twentieth-century Native American authors intervene in and revise those dominative narratives. Many scholars, such as Roy Harvey Pearce, Robert Berkhofer, Jr., and Louis Owens, focus all or parts of studies on the misrepresentations of Native Americans by European/European American authors. In addition, scholars such as Djelal Kadir and Lucy Maddox assess how European/European American storytelling traditions enable colonialism. I shift the focus of the former scholars to emphasize narrative rather than character construction and build on the work of the latter scholars by identifying and focusing on the narration of Native Americans into absence. Consistently, in spite of diverse ideological approaches to the textual rendering of colonial experiences, authors such as Susanna Rowson, Charles Brockden Brown, Lydia Maria Child, James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, William Gilmore Simms, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Frank Norris construct Native American characters in order to annihilate them, or, as the example of Norris illustrates, European American authors establish their narratives on an assumption of conquest, of the absence of Native Americans. Thomas King, Gerald Vizenor, and Sherman Alexie, however, intervene directly in this storytelling tradition and revise these stories that plot the absence of Native Americans. For example, King revises Biblical narratives and canonical texts such as Moby-Dick; Vizenor revises frontier narratives and constructs new, mixedblood landscapes founded on the liberatory promises of trickster humor, rather than violence; and Alexie revises technological narratives of conquest disseminated by films and television. While European/European American narratives of conquest enact, enhance, and justify colonialism and the attendant violence, King, Vizenor, and Alexie plot a new Native American presence that subverts all articulations of European/European American dominance and conquest. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Cox, James Howard, "Muting white noise: Revisionary Native American novelists" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9952673.