Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Sara Deats, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Patricia Nickinson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ruth Banes, Ph.D.

Keywords

a, mission, Luiseño, Cahuilla, Temecula

Abstract

Helen Hunt Jackson wrote the sentimental novel,

Ramona, to call attention to social justice for Native Americans. This thesis presents a reconsideration and reevaluation of the novel, especially that of the Native American voice the novel presents, by recognizing the complexities of Native American literature and culture. Previous criticism of the novel focuses on the portrayal of Hispanics or the "real life" events, such as the shaping of Southern California, the "true" Ramona, or the life of Jackson. Since there is little critical debate of the text itself, this thesis initiates further exploration. An extensive review of the scholarship provides evidence of the problematic Native American voice. Other white authors, most significantly John G. Neihardt, have presented Native American literary texts such as autobiographies. While Ramona is a work of fiction, Jackson takes similar liberties as translators and editors of Native American autobiographies. In addition, Christianity shapes Jackson’s interpretation of Native American life. All of Jackson’s characters, both Native American and Hispanic, are influenced by Christianity, and no Native American religion exists within the novel. Despite Jackson’s genuine sympathy for Native American rights, she struggles with Native American stereotypes throughout Ramona and creates her own image of the civilized man as noble savage. Jackson can only present a portrait of the Native American

as she perceives it because she encountered at least two distinct obstacles that prevented her from writing in an authentic Native American voice. First, at the time that Jackson wrote the novel, the Luiseño tribe, the subject of Jackson’s narrative, had been influenced by the role of Europeans in their society for over 300 years, and the tribe had lost at least some sense of its original native identity. Secondly, like other white authors, Jackson attempts to give voice to the Native American with her own white upper class female tongue. The Native American voice that Jackson presents is ultimately filtered through her Western lens.

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