John Richardson's Wacousta Essay

682 words - 3 pages

John Richardson's Wacousta

Wacousta is interesting, not because it is a "great" novel, but because it was the first novel written by a native-born Canadian, and because the interaction of the worlds of the Indian and the European in the novel is so complete; this is not a simplistic narrative of inherent Western superiority, although it does have a certain manner of privileging the West. There may be a few reasons for this. Richardson almost certainly had Native ancestry, and he knew a great deal about the local tribes, having a large amount of sympathy with their difficulties and aspirations. Nonetheless, this is primarily a novel about Europeans and European culture, where the Indians and their country represent what that culture suppresses in human nature.

The text abounds in opposites and parallels, the two most important of these being the locations of the fort Detroit and the forest. The fort is not a typical human community. It is there to serve a particular purpose, to maintain control over the surrounding territory and hence to ensure the security of the lucrative fur trade. As such, all of its procedures and structures are geared towards that purpose. Within its walls, everything is as linear and rational as possible; right angles are everywhere. The fort thus represents the European mind, which is supposedly logical and unemotional. Order is of paramount importance, and anything which contravenes that order is unacceptable. This goes some way towards explaining Colonel de Haldimar's seemingly brutal treatment of Halloway after the latter's apparent dereliction of duty. The forest, on the other hand, and the Indians who inhabit it, represent everything which is dark, disordered and irrational.

This is very much a novel about boundaries, about what happens when they are crossed, and about what lies outside the European rational mind, about what it excludes. Thus, Reginald Morton assumes the identity of Wacousta in order to bring about a series of events that could not take place in Europe. He is freed from his previous social and cultural restrictions. He and Colonel...

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