Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Native American Representation in Simms's The Yemassee >> Page 35

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Page 35

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription regarding this era. While some Anglo-Americans sympathized with the Native
American, most regarded the process of "colonizing" the territory as inevitable.
The characterizations of the Native American in The Yemassee warrant
attention. At times, such characters as Chief Sanutee, his wife Matiwan, and their
son Occonestoga are romantically depicted as noble savages. Striving for realistic
representation at other times, Simms describes moral parallels between Native
Americans and Anglo-Americans; they equally share good and evil
characteristics. John C. Guilds states:

Though frequently Simms's theories of art are couched in romantic
terms (a vocabulary for realism was not in vogue), when Simms
writes "with his sleeves rolled up" what comes out is realistic' in
language, tone, and mode- --- witness nearly all scenes in "The
Yemassee dealing with frontier action, away from the drawing
room with its polite conversation and pretense of noble sentiment.
Though mistaken in some of his assessments of Simms, Parrington
was correct -- first among academic critics -- in recognizing and
hailing Simms's innate realism. (The Yemassee, "Afterward" 435)

Aspects of realism and romanticism are recognized in the work. In his
introduction to Simms's The Yemassee, Guilds also points out: "while Simms
consciously and sympathetically portrayed the Indians as credible human beings,
he also was consciously creating a mythology about the Yemassee." (xvii) Simms
appears to be in a compromised position: he cannot write poignantly about the
atrocities committed as a cause of the American colonial process. It would be
difficult to publish a work which would offend or implicate its reading public,
especially if the work suggests or indicates complicity on the part of American
citizens living while the colonial process still operated. The consequence, I argue,
is that Simms's historical fiction utilizes romanticism as a way to tell a publicly
approved story which nonetheless indicates causes for the removal and extinction
of American Indians from their native soil.
Simms's The Yemassee, a representative work of nineteenth-century
American literature regarding the plight of the Native American, reflects the
nation's social atmosphere at a time when forced removal of Indians from their
land was at its apex. While recognizing Simms's novel as a romanticized fictional
history, one can still reconstruct fundamental elements of the conflict between
American native and colonizer through a exalatlot~ of the multiNoiced
discourse which The Yemassee provides. Simms points out the complexity of the
struggle between the cultures of the Euroamerican colonizer and the Native
American. Contrapuntal voices in the text further help in understanding the
confrontational positions in which the Indians and colonizers found themselves.