Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Native American Representation in Simms's The Yemassee >> Page 36

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 36

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription One can also evaluate what fundamental differences existed in Euroamerican and
Native American philosophies as oppositional forces tried to justify their actions
in the colonial struggle.
Romantic characteristics noted in The Yemassee include its omniscient point
of view, the important relationship of God to man, and the glorification of the
noble savage and nature. In The Yemassee, such characters as Sanutee and
Matiwan demonstrate pride in a culture which faces extinction. Yet while Simms
expresses sympathy for the Indian in the work, he also shows that Indians fight
among themselves, and colonizers do likewise. Conflicts abound in this
simultaneously creative and destructive era of American history. At the root of the
events described in the novel, contrasting worldviews are tested. The behavior,
representation, and philosophy of the Indian become important in assessing the
fall of the native American people as represented by Simms.
Nancy Grantham, in referring to The Yemassee, points out that "Simms's
authorial voice does not justify the annihilation of the Yemassee people nor deny
the validity of the Yemassee's culture or their stand to defend it" (108). In one
scene, Ishiagaska cries out that the English shall have none of the Indians' land.
But the process of colonization, of overtaking Indian land through force or
deception, has already been set in motion. In desperation, Chief Sanutee invokes
the prophets, hoping that they can still speak for the Yemassee people. The tribe's
dissension has been caused by the English which eventually spreads among tribes,
chiefs, and even families. Adhering adamantly to tradition, Sanutee cannot accept
his son Occonestoga's willingness to comply with the English colonizers, for the
father realizes that his son is being corrupted by material goods which influence
him to act in the interests of the English colonizers.
Simms's narrator appears reluctant in recognizing the unjust practices of the
English and then stating, for example, "The Block House marked the rightful
boundary of the whites upon the river" (17). A right to the land is assumed here.
tacit, mutual respect seems to recognize borders, but this understanding is later
abandoned. A process of colonization is suggested here, but the narrator does not
acknowledge it explicitly. The slow, almost imperceptible nature of the process
seems to suggest a pacification in the presentation of the tragedy, creating a more
acceptable way to let colonization take its inevitable course.
Even Yemassee songs, as depicted by Simms, bring out the sense of futility
associated with the Indian's plight. These lamentations call for the departure of
Opitchi-Manneyto, the black spirit who brings evil to the Yemassee people, and
whom the Yemassee wish would return to his "red home." One song reads:

Thy wing, Opitchi-Manneyto,
It o'erthrows the tall trees
Thy breath, Opitchi-Manneyto,