The Noble Savage and Ecological Indian: Cultural Dissonance and Representations of Native Americans in Literature

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McNaughton, Brooke D.
cultural dissonance; Native American representation; literature; American Studies
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis provides a unique approach to understanding the historical origins and contemporary social ramifications of the use of the concepts of the Noble Savage and the Ecological Indian within literature. I first examine the history of the Noble Savage concept in literature by examining relevant social movements, and then its eventual transition into its modern counterpart, the Ecological Indian. Authors who employ the use of these concepts typically portray Natives in a way which provides an idealized alternative for white cultural woes. Consequently, this idealization creates problems with modern Native identity. In the second half of this project I evaluate two modern novels which address these Native identity issues—Ceremony (1977) by Leslie Marmon Silko and Wolfsong (1995) by Louis Owens. These novels incorporate aspects of the Ecological Indian concept and each offers a different interpretation of the concept‟s effect on Native culture; one is optimistic and forward-thinking while the other is more pessimistic and critical of the current social environment. Understanding these two opposing responses, in conjunction with the critical history, allows for a more constructive acknowledgement of the problematic divide between American ideals and Native experiences and concerns. I submit my research in hopes that it may offer potential solutions to the cultural woes caused by the long-standing stereotypes associated with the Noble Savage and Ecological Indian concepts.