The Vanishing American: Historical Context Essay

2217 words - 9 pages

From the very beginning of European colonization of the New World, the Native American population has continually been dropping. Throughout the frontier history of the United States, the chief objective of the pioneering white race was to move the savages aside by any way necessary, in order to settle the vast landscape of the continent. It was not until the Indian population was almost entirely wiped out that American society took an interest in the phenomenon of the perishing native race. Going along with societal trends, renown Western novelist Zane Grey published a work focused on the doomed people. "The Vanishing American apart, none of Grey's novels were ever made into really important movies;" but, like other Zane adaptations, this 1925 Native American epic "retained the values of his story" (Everson 170). Remaining loyal to the author's ideals, The Vanishing American focuses on the plight of a vanquished tribe living in a world in which the ill-fated rarely receive a second chance.

Understanding the theory of the Vanishing American can best be achieved by first identifying with the history of European settling of the New World. For evidence of popular thought dealing with the natives of America during the beginning of European exploration, one must look no further than the works of William Shakespeare. The Tempest clearly presents the racial superiority, which its English audience supposed they possessed over the people of the New World, as an obvious fact. "To theatergoers Caliban (the savage native) represented what Europeans had been when they were lower on the scale of development" (Takaki 32). As America began to be further developed, the savagery seen in the natives somehow began to connect them to evil forces. This demonization of the Native Americans, who Puritan Reverend Mayhew described as "mighty zealous and earnest in the Worship of False gods and Devils," served as justification for the taking of "unused" lands throughout the period of colonization (qtd. in Takaki 40). By the time the new country was formed, intellectual and political leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, began to take a different approach to the Indian problem: assimilation. While on one hand Jefferson wished to see Anglos and peaceful natives "long continue to smoke together in friendship," he also believed it would be best if "We would never cease pursuing [uncooperative Indians] with war while one remained on the face of the earth" (309-10). However, the choice between civilization and extermination soon became void for the people who stood in the way of a pioneering young America, for Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Policy forced tribes out of their native lands without any regard to previous treaties. When justifying this violent takeover of property, Jackson stated in his 5th Annual Message to Congress, ."..in the midst of another and a superior race, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear"...

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