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Unscripted AmericaIndigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation$
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Sarah Rivett

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190492564

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190492564.001.0001

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Indigenous Metaphors and the Philosophy of History in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales

Indigenous Metaphors and the Philosophy of History in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales

(p.238) { 8 } Indigenous Metaphors and the Philosophy of History in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales
Unscripted America

Sarah Rivett

Oxford University Press

Chapter 8 explores how a fascination with a “native language” emerged in literary circles through a simultaneous indebtedness to traditional British prose and verse forms, and Anglo-American linguistic affiliation with indigenous-language roots. By 1815, the “Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society” would declare this “native language” a uniquely “American idiom” to be discovered on the American continent through the “numerous novel forms” of Indian languages. In his early novels, James Fenimore Cooper seized upon the aesthetic value that could be constructed from Indian languages and from the figure of the noble savage. I show how Cooper’s novels build upon beliefs in the prelapsarian quality of indigenous languages. I argue that the regenerative potential that Cooper’s novels portray as arising from Indian words functions as aesthetic compensation for the violence and repeated violation of treaty agreements that characterized US and Indian relations in the early nineteenth century.

Keywords:   James Fenimore Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales, Metaphor, Lenni-Lenape, John Heckewelder

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