Designing the Future:
Hope, Magawisca & Their People's Struggles for Dominance in Colonial America

By Kate Porter

    In Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, two female characters stand in the center both of the plot and of the hero, Everell Fletcher's, affections. Hope Leslie, an English woman who immigrated to America, and Magawisca, an Indian, share many attributes, both with respect to their appearances, their beliefs, their virtues, and their affections. However, there are two major differences between Hope and Magawisca. The first and most obvious is their ethnicities; Hope is an Anglo-American while Magawisca has Indian blood. The other difference, however, cannot be justified by genetics. While both women love Everell and he clearly cares a great deal for both of them, it is quite clear that Everell will never be able to marry Magawisca, while he can and does, at the novel's denouement, marry Hope. Sedgwick, by giving Magawisca and Hope so many shared attributes, allows her readers to empathize with the Indian experience and see connections between the two different peoples. However, when Hope and Everell marry, leaving Magawisca to make her own way in the world, Sedgwick leaves us with the sense that the future of the American colonies does not include both the Indians and the settlers--the settlers will prosper while the Indians fade slowly out of existence.

    The first characteristic these women share involves physical appearance; while they obviously look very different, both Hope and Magawisca possess great beauty. When describing Hope, the narrator exclaims, "she was delicately formed, the high health and uniform habits of a country life had endowed her with the beauty in which poetry has invested in Hebe; while her love for exploring hill and dale, ravine and precipice, had given her that elastic step and ductile grace which belongs to all agile animals" (122). So, while she exudes beauty on Puritan terms, being delicate and comparable to a classical poetic beauty, she has a wildness about her that we might not expect from a cultured, Anglo-American woman. Similarly, when describing Magawisca, the narrator offers praise for her appearance, saying, "Her form was slender, flexible, and graceful and there was a freedom and loftiness in her movement which though tempered with modesty, expressed a consciousness of high birth her face was beautiful even to a European eye" (23). The narrator continues, "this daughter of a chieftain had an air of wild and fantastic grace, that harmonized well with the noble demeanor and peculiar beauty of the savage" (23). So, while the narrator does describe her as wild and savage, as readers might expect from an Indian, Magawisca also possesses many attributes admired by the Anglo-American culture. Not only can the European eye can appreciate her beauty, but this young woman is also noble and modest, attributes we may not expect to find in an Indian girl. So, just as these girls have the kind of beauty expected in a woman of each of their respective races, they also each possess aesthetic qualities generally identified with the opposing race.

    Their similarities do not end with outward appearances, however; Hope and Magawisca share many internal character traits as well. For example, both girls are extremely intelligent. When Magawisca came to live with the Fletchers as a small child, Everell took it upon himself to teach her English. Mrs. Fletcher reports on Magawisca's remarkable progress in a letter to her husband, writing, "If in his studies, [Everell] meets with any trait of heroism he straightaway calleth for her and rendereth it into English, in which she hath made such marvelous progress, that I am sometimes startled with the beautiful forms in which she clothes her simple thoughts" (32). So, while we may not generally associate intellectual capability with the term "savage," as Magawisca and her people are described, clearly her intelligence surpasses what we may expect of her race. Hope's education, of course, has been much more structured. As opposed to Everell's informal lessons to Magawisca, a professional tutor, Mr. Cradock, has been responsible for Hope's education. He teaches her foreign languages, including Latin and Italian, among other things. We know that she has learned at least Italian fairly well when she recalls to the Puritans her unfortunate encounter with the devout but quite mistaken Italian sailor. She indicates that she was proficient enough in Italian to communicate with him and thus rescue herself from danger. Mr. Cradock displays pride in his pupil after this tale: "the old man threw his head back and burst into a peal of laughter and as soon as he could recover his voice, 'did I not teach her the tongues?' he asked" (271). Beyond the fact that both women are quick, the narrator further connects them by using these two details, both of which involve learning a foreign tongue, to demonstrate this shared attribute. As in the comparison of physical attractiveness, while we expect our cultured, well-educated Anglo-American heroine to possess some degree of intellect, we do not expect this characteristic to be found in her "savage" counterpart, Magawisca. This similarity allows us to identify further with Magawisca and recognize in her some respected characteristics of Anglo-American society.

    Just as Magawisca shares with Hope some attributes that we may assume to be more associated with Anglo-American characters than with Indian characters, Hope possesses, along with Magawisca, some traits more understood to be "savage." For example, both women are free spirits whose thoughts do not lend themselves to confinement within a Puritan household. Mrs. Fletcher describes this tendency in Magawisca, saying, "it is not that she lacks obedience to me but it appeareth impossible to her to clip the wings of her soaring thoughts" (32). So, this attribute could not be described as negative, because Magawisca still manages to obey her mistress. However, it may not be conducive to life within a structured, Anglo-American household. While Hope shares this quality, she is a less extreme example of it. We know that she does not plan to move out of society into the woods, but will remain in her Puritan household, for example. Nevertheless, she does wander away from the safety of her home and into the wilderness several times throughout the novel. Jennet, a servant, describes indicates Hope's wanderlust: "'Miss Hope was always like a crazed body of moonlit nights; there was never any keeping her within the four walls of a house'" (173). Hope can be described as a free spirit in the sense that she has less concern for the proper Puritan behavior than her friend, the ideally obedient and homebound Esther Downing. Hope wanders out at night, alone and after the scandalous hour of nine, as well as insisting to stay on a strange and fairly desolate island by herself overnight despite the dangers. While we might expect this behavior from Magawisca, we do not necessarily assume that a good Puritan woman will possess this specific character trait. So, because Hope, our heroine, is herself quite free spirited, we recognize that this generally "savage" attribute may not be completely undesirable and therefore can further identify with the Indians.

    Another characteristic that these two women share involves religion. Both Hope and Magawisca, while they are Christian and Pagan, respectively, think beyond the boundaries of their own beliefs. We are told that Hope, while she is a Puritan, "enjoyed the capacities of her nature and permitted her mind to expand beyond the contracted boundaries of sectarian faith" (123). While Hope lives in a Puritan society and herself practices Christian beliefs, she is clearly not as narrow-minded about other religions as we might expect her to be. Magawisca shares Hope's openness, imparting her beliefs to Hope at the grave sites of both of their mothers, and asking, "'think ye not that the Great Spirit looks down on these sacred spots where the good and the peaceful rest with an equal eye?'" (189). While she refers to her God, the Great Spirit, she includes Hope's mother, a Puritan, under the shade of his loving and watchful gaze. So, these women, while still espousing their own beliefs, can recognize the validity each other's faiths. Their open-mindedness coupled with the fact that their mothers do rest side by side in a graveyard helps us to be less wary of Magawisca's faith and perhaps also then recognize its validity.

    So, Hope and Magawisca share a good deal of qualities: both are beautiful, intelligent, free-spirited, and open-minded when it comes to faith. Another parallel, however, is the most important one to the development of the novel's plot: these women share Everell, as well. Both, for example, spent time under the same roof with him when they were young. Magawisca lived with Everell's family until her father, Mononotto, ransacked the Fletcher home and captured Faith, Magawisca, and Everell. After Everell's escape from Mononotto, he lived with Hope and Mr. Fletcher until he was sent to England as a young man. After their childhood experiences with him, both women were separated from Everell for a period of time, thus not seeing him again until they had grown into women. Hope was separated from Everell for the several years he was in England. Additionally, he and Magawisca were apart from the time of his escape until she returned to Boston in order to bring Hope in contact with her sister.

    More importantly than the amount of time that they spend with Everell, of course, is that both women are quite in love with him. Hope, while she holds a great affection for him throughout the novel, does not realize her romantic love for Everell until she discovers that he may marry Esther. However, in light of that information, she finds that, "[she] was shocked at her own discovery of [her feelings'] existence the change had been so gradual, from her childish fondness for Everell, to a more mature sentiment, as to be imperceptible even to herself" (212-213). After Hope discovers her feelings for our hero, they remain quite powerful and she must struggle to conceal them, revealing only blushes and glances, in the face of Everell's seemingly inevitable union to Esther. Magawisca's love for Everell began quite early in their lives, though it also may have been sisterly rather than romantic love. When Everell was captured by Mononotto and sentenced to die as a sacrifice for the death of the chief's son, Magawisca risked her own life to save Everell's: "Magawisca, springing from the precipitous side of the rock, screamed--'Forbear!' and interposed her arm. The blow was leveled the stroke aimed at Everell's neck, severed his defender's arm and left him unharmed" (93). In addition to her childhood love for him, Magawisca's womanly love seems just as strong as Hope's and, at one moment, far more visible. Although upon returning to Boston, Magawisca insists that she not see Everell, at one point by mistake she has "a perfect view of [him], who was sitting musing in the window seat. An involuntary exclamation burst from her lips; and then shuddering at this exposure of her feelings, she hastily darted away" (185). We can assume from this that Magawisca's insistence upon not seeing Everell stemmed from her concern that she would not be able to conceal her deep feelings for him, as indeed she could not when accidentally seeing him. So, both women, who share many qualities one could expect to find in a heroine, are in love with our hero.

    However, our hero can only marry one of these women--and he marries Hope. However, Hope should not necessarily be the obvious choice. The two women seem relatively equal in beauty and character and both love Everell completely. In addition, he loved both of them very much as a boy, so his affections have not always leaned to one side rather than the other. So the only solid answer we're given for Everell's choice is race. Both Hope and Everell, though they have great affection for Magawisca, express the impossibility and repugnance of a union of red and white. Hope's feelings on this possibility surface during her reaction to the discovery of her sister's marriage to Oneco. She bemoans her sister's fate, crying,"'God forbid My sister married to an Indian!'" (188). So, while she loves and is loyal to Magawisca, she cannot bear the idea of one of her relatives wedded to one of Magawisca's kind. Everell indicates his bias with respect to his own love for Magawisca, saying to Digby, "yes I might have loved her--might have forgotten that nature had put barriers between us" (214). When he refers to love here, he is clearly referencing romantic love that might lead to marriage and not the brotherly affection he had for Magawisca when he was a boy. Here, Everell tells us that nature has put barriers between them, indicating that he sees their differences as more than circumstantial--as deep and intrinsic divisions that they will never be able to overcome. Even Digby indicates that, while Everell may have loved Magawisca to some extent, he would never have been able to love her as much as he loved Hope. Imparting this theory, he explains, "things would naturally have taken another course after Miss Hope came among us I believe it would have broken Magawisca's heart to have been put in that kind of eclipse by Miss Leslie's coming between you and her. Now all is as is should be" (214). So, according to Digby, regardless of Everell's feelings for Magawisca, it is obvious that his affection for her would inevitably be overshadowed by his feelings for Hope; Magawisca could never compete with Hope for Everell's affection. Like Everell, Digby does not seem to believe that Everell's shift of affection was circumstantial, but rather inevitable, as the world is "as it should be" when Everell and Hope are together. So, regardless of her beauty and other virtues, it seems that Magawisca will fall short of Hope in Everell's eyes simply because of her race.

    Despite her love for Everell, even Magawisca indicates that the two races cannot intermingle. When it is clear that Hope and Everell will get married, they ask Magawisca to stay and live with them. However, she turns them down, saying, "'It cannot be the Indian and the white man can no more mingle and become one, than day and night'" (330). Even Magawisca recognizes, perhaps because of her experience with Hope and Everell, that their two races cannot mix if both want to retain aspects of their separate cultures. So, while Hope and Everell remain together to plan a future, Magawisca disappears into the forest with only a locket containing a picture of him--quite a consolation prize. While the two women share a multitude of similar traits, the ultimate differences between them become abundantly clear as Hope remains in Anglo- American society with the object of both women's affection while Magawisca vanishes into the wilderness, alone.

    With Magawisca's departure, the two races that have mingled, for better or for worse, throughout the novel become entirely separate for the first time. More than Magawisca's departure evidences this separation. Nelema, for example, did exist if not in Anglo- American society, then at least near it, and did interact with the Puritans to some degree. As she is the only old, wise healer that we hear about in this novel, she represents the older generation of Indians. Though she has lived near the Anglo-Americans for many years, they imprison her, afraid that the methods she used, ironically, to cure Mr. Cradock from a rattlesnake bite, are savage and possibly satanic. Hope frees her, but as she is no longer welcome to live where she once did, she must escape to her people, who are far from the Anglo-American society. Magawisca tells Hope of Nelema's death, "'Nelema, wasted, faint and dying, she crawled into my father's wigwam. She had scant time, and short breath; with that she cursed your race her day was ended" (187). So, while Nelema once lived close to white society, they exile her in prison and so she must die completely segregated from them, cursing them as her own people nurse her to her death. Another incident that widens the gulf between the races occurs when Magawisca, an Indian who lived in an Anglo-American house during her childhood and is welcome by many of the Puritans to return there at her leisure, leaves Hope and Everell and "[disappears] forever from their sight" (334). Her influence, for a time, allowed some Anglo- Americans to obtain a favorable sense of the Indians, such as when Everell heard her story of the Puritan massacre of the Pequod wars and realized that the Indians were innocent victims in this massacre. However, with Magawisca gone, there remains no other perspective but the white one in this Anglo-American community. In addition to actually cohabiting in some instances, such as Magawisca living with the Fletchers, these two communities were also in contact through their wars. Though this may not be seen as a positive connection, it did allow them to maintain continued contact of one sort or other. However, by the end of the novel, we hear that the Indians are no longer a threat to the Puritan community because they are too busy warring with each other. So, even this rudimentary form of communication disappears by the end of the novel. As Magawisca departs, we see that these communities are no longer even attempting to exist side by side.

    This conclusion could be seen not as testimony to the necessary eradication of the Indians, but simply to the fact that the two cultures can exist simultaneously but cannot cohabitate. However, when we examine the picture of the two separate societies at the end of the novel, we get a drastically dichotomous picture of them. First, the Anglo-American community continues to thrive. Hope and Everell's marriage is fecund with promise, as we can assume that they will procreate and therefore continue the future of Anglo-American society. The older generation, such as Everell's father, Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Cradock, and Governor Winthrop, continues to govern and teach the young, thriving in its own right. Finally, now that the Indians no longer threaten them, the Anglo-Americans will be able to control the land and expand as they please. The Indian society, on the other hand, seems to be declining. They older generation is dying out, as evidenced by Nelema's demise. Many Indians have been massacred by the settlers' guns. They have been driven from their lands by the Anglo-Americans and are no longer fighting to reclaim it. But most importantly, they are destroying each other: "a war had broken out between the Miantunnomoh and Uncas" (341). So, not only do the Anglo-Americans not have to worry about being killed by the Indians, they don't seem to have to worry about Indians much at all any more, as the Indians are now killing each other off. So, we see these two societies separate and then watch the Anglo-American society prosper as the Indians destroy each other and deplete the chances for their own race's survival.

    In Hope Leslie, Sedgwick does allow us to sympathize with and see some merit in the Indian race by giving Magawisca so many admirable qualities that she shares with Hope. We have a difficult time seeing all Indians as savages in the face of Magawisca's beauty, intelligence, free-spiritedness, nobility, and her openness to accept if not believe in Christianity. However, her favorable qualities do not alter the inevitable--Magawisca's wonderful traits do not win the Indians a place in, or even a place beside the Anglo-American society. Because of this juxtaposed picture of these two peoples, not only do the two cultures seem unable to live side by side, but also the future of Sedgwick's America seems to depend on the eradication of the Indians and belong solely to the Anglo-Americans.