Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona, published in 1884, was intended to arouse the nation's interest in the plight of California Indians using literary, melodramatic adaptations of actual events, such as the shooting of a Cahuilla Indian in the same fashion as Alessandro in the novel. Ms. Jackson was attempting to write "a story which will be a good stroke for the Indians." Very accelerated growth of the state of California was a key factor in the continuing marginalization of the mission Indians during the time in which the book had been written.
Romance is used as a device to drive the story of Ramona, a 19 year old girl of Indian and Scottish descent who falls in love with Alessandro, an Indian shepherd. Using a fictional love story to set the tone for her book allows the author to reach a broader audience than if it were written in a preachy, politically polarized style. Ramona became a bestseller in 1884, many literary critics at the time focused only on the romantic story line and not the progressive message of reform. Incorporated into Ms. Jackson's novel are her own personal feelings about the lack of a real social movement to combat these injustices at the time. Michael Dorris writes "[Jackson] incorporated in her own work not only the Southern California locales of her recent experience, but many of the names, events, and specific occurrences she had witnessed and heard about. Though Helen once stated that much of her best plots came from her dreams, much of the crucial action in "Ramona" was taken whole from real life." "Throughout Ramona, Mrs. Jackson reflects, consciously and unconsciously, various attitudes prevalent in her day towards Indians" "Felipe grew wretched as his fancy dwelt on the picture of Ramona's future. He had been in the Temecula village
it was incredible that a girl reared as Ramona had been, could for a moment contemplate leading the life of a poor laboring man's wife." With the knowledge she is adopted, though not her heritage, Ramona asks her adoptive mother about her biological family, but is rebuffed. In a dialogue, Ramona confides to Alessandro, "the worst thing is, Alessandro, that she will not tell me who my mother was; and I do not know if she is alive or not, or anything about her. Once I asked the Senora, but she forbade me to ever ask her again. She said she herself would tell me when it was proper for me know. But she never has
have you ever asked her again? No one has ever disobeyed the Senora." This dialogue illustrates the negative attitude of Americans at the time of publication towards Indians and the portrayal of a domineering American culture i.e. "the Melting Pot."
Systemic stripping of the Native Californians cultural identity, particularly the disdain for an agricultural system of living endemic to the Indian culture is a main area of concern in the novel, ""Were you thinking of hiring him permanently?" Asked the Senora in a surprised tone. "They are all poor, I suppose; he would not work with the shearers if he were not poor
but you have never been among them." Felipe said impatiently. "They are just as proud as we are. Some of them, I mean."" Throughout the novel we are treated to instances of Senora Moreno's distasteful view of Indians. "What was not that terrible Senora capable of doing? Why did she look at him and at Ramona with such loathing scorn? Since she knew that the Senorita was half Indian, why would she think it so dreadful a thing for her to marry an Indian man?"
Racial tension is used throughout the book to support Jackson's position. Senora Moreno says "the race was never meant for anything but servants." The adoptive mother of Ramona, who is half Indian, regards Indians as inferior. "The entry of Alessandro's marriage was blotted
Alessandro Assis. Majella Fa-
Clearly an Indian name
yet she seemed so superior in every way. I wonder where she got it?" Coming from a member of the Clergy, this is a strong...
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