F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

Articulation of American Identity in the Anonymous Female American

The Anonymous Female American is a Robinson Crusoe style adventure narrative featuring a woman as the central protagonist. Unca, the daughter of a Native American Princess and white European male, traverses the sea, shipwrecks on a mysterious island, and has to negotiate with the natives. The story has all the trappings of the adventure narratives which were popular at the time, but the fact that it depicts a woman outside of domestic spaces. Unca not only has mobility to move outside of domestic spaces, but she has power. 

What is most notable about this text is its exploration of womanhood and Americanness. The Broadview edition notes that it was one of the earliest novels to articulate American identity. I found this description striking, but truthful. Female American, and of course this was not deliberate, understands American womanhood as being articulated around particular kind of Whiteness.

Although Unca is the child of a Native American woman, making her not totally white, she essentially supplants her mother. Her mom might legitimize her place in the story as royalty, but after the mother's death, Unca becomes the primarily woman in the story. After being fettered back and forth to England and shipwrecking on an island - she is now the only European presence because her father as died. Therefore, it is necessary that she become THE female (her mother) American (father), negotiating and navigating the role of her mother and father.

As the story demonstrates, positions like "female" or "American" are not static. They change over time and Unca is articulating a certain identity that folds into a particular type of "whiteness." With her father and mother gone and nothing to lean on except for a mysteries set of notes about bare-bones survival techniques, Unca has to create her own identity. She does this by juxtaposing herself with the Native population, which she uses Christianity to lord over. This is how she creates a type of whiteness, through contrast and domination.

Unca is charting new territory like a colonist by supplanting existing systems and creates hierarchies of domination that rely on contrast and supremacy. Although the vehicle Unca uses is Christianity, it is interesting to note how she grew from her origins to articulate a new American identity that was neither indigenous, nor born in England. But born in the Americas and hybridized into Whiteness.

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