Early US Literature

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The Myth of Wilderness in the Colonization of America


In his The Invasion of America, Francis Jennings joins the historiographical movement of indicting the Europeans for the depopulation of the Indian peoples in North America, seizing their lands deceitfully, inflicting wars, and destroying their culture. I argue with Jennings that the concept of America as a wilderness was a myth constructed by Reconnaissance Europeans who were the early colonizers and whose belief in their divine superiority as Christians as opposed to the inferiority of the heathens would later create the divide between the whites and the coloreds.

Though the book was not written pre-1865, it discusses the formative period of the European colonialism in America, its causes, its successful establishment and its continued ramifications. For the first part of my essay, I will study the different ideologies which helped establish the colonies in America and sustained the colonial enterprise there because this myth began as propaganda and developed into an ideology that is still accepted as standard convention for the divide between the civilized and the savage. Jennings discusses these developments in an evolutionary fashion in the first part of the book.

Ideology is understood as a set of ideas proposed and implemented by the dominant race or class of people. I intend to focus on evolutionary history of the European ideology of their supremacy over other races and the reasons for the dominance of such an ideology as described by Jennings. I will also study the similarities between the ideology that led to the English colonization of Ireland and other parts of the world and its colonization of America. Nicholas Canny discusses the English colonial experience in Ireland and the development of the ideology that the Irish were savages in contrast to the English who were civilized (579).

Though, as A. G. Roeber writes, Jennings does not always support his argument by citing substantial evidence (368). Sometimes he makes an argument appear as self-evident truth however, I am not concerned with the exactitude of Jennings claims but with the powerful role of ideology in the construction of myths. To illustrate his point, Jennings focuses his studies on New England region which in turn provides an alternative insight into the ideology of Puritans and the struggle among various subgroups of Puritans for the dominance of their own ideologies. This makes for an interesting study of the constant power dynamics at play for the dominance of a certain ideology even within a group.

Works Cited

Canny, Nicholas P. “The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America.” The William and Mary Quarterly. Third series. 30.4 (1973): 575-598. Web.  20 Jul. 2013.

Roeber, A. G. “Review of The Invasion of America: Indians, and the Cant of Conquest by Francis Jennings.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9.2 (1978): 368-371. Web. 20 Jul. 2013.



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