WEEK THREE--William Apess
Apess’s An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man is a powerfully worded indictment of white hypocrisy, specifically as this hypocrisy relates to white Americans’ avowal of Christian faith. As your Norton explains, Apess’s account is marked by “the oratory style of a practiced preacher” as well as by “a sense of power of the spoken word in native cultures” (477). What aspects of his text reveal his skill as a preacher? Which aspects appear demonstrative of the “power of the spoken word” in native cultures?
We discussed many of his biblical references in class. The most powerful among them are those in which he maligns white Americans for their persistent practice of using skin color as a “pretext to keep us,” Apess writes, “from our inalienable and lawful rights” (478). Apess dwells on skin colors; he references what he sees as a biblical precedent for the value of dark skinned people. He writes, “If black or red skins or any other skin of color is disgraceful to God, it appears that he has disgraced himself a great deal—for he has made fifteen colored people to one white and placed them here upon this earth” (478-9). He relies upon divine writ, as it were, to support his claim for equality among races and to strengthen his attack again white racism as it affects Native Americans and black Americans. What other examples, in addition to the above proclamation, does Apess include?
Consider the following statement of Apess’s: “What is all this ado about missionary societies, if it be not to Christianize those who are not Christians? And what is it for? To degrade them worse, to bring them into society where they must welter out their days in disgrace merely because their skin is of a different complexion” (480). This last sentence is a statement: the purpose of these society is to degrade Americans of color. How does Apess resolve his identity as both a Christian and a Native American, then? If the Christian faith brings the unconverted into fold only to degrade them, how can Apess avow such a faith? Or, if the faith itself is not the problem, how did the application of its principles become so perverted?
Please consider the following quote from Barry O’Connell’s On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot: “The very terminologies of an Americanist discourse, which value Euro-Americans precisely through implied contrast to their Indian opposites, are expropriated, inverted, or used as though they could characterize Indians as aptly as Euro-Americans. This ‘Rev. William Apess, an Indian,’ confounds savage and civilized, pagan and Christian, devil and saint, villain and hero, the polarities upon which Euro-American culture has built its sense of legitimacy, of its superiority to Native and African Americans. The binary logic of ‘us/them’ is riddled by Apess’s words” (xxii). There is plenty in An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man to support Barry O’Connell’s argument here. Please identify a few passages that demonstrate Apess’s “expropriation” of the binaries from which Euro-Americans have derived a sense of power and superiority.