Realism and the Unreal in “The Female American” by Winkfield Critical Essay
Updated: Jun 21st, 2019
It is hard for readers to ignore the many peculiarities that are found in Winkfield’s novel including the rare multicultural heroine and the book’s deviation from the antagonist/protagonist approach in literature.
The novel also introduces several facts that are difficult to place in the eighteenth century society including the roles of female missionaries in the spread of Christianity and the heroine who alters the fate of an entire population.
The peculiarity of this eighteenth century novel has invited various scholars to criticize the realism and the relevance of Winkfield’s work in the then society. In addition, scholars have often attempted to map the novel’s social placement in light of its far-fetched realism.
Some of the scholars who have examined Winkfield’s novel have found it to be wildly inaccurate in a manner that diminishes its literary value. There are contentious issues that touch on realism and the unreal aspects of Winkfield’s novel including gender, class, imperial, racial, and national issues.
It is easy to dismiss Winkfield’s work as mere fantasy but the novel highlights credible realism on several instances. Some of the cultural and social fantasies that are outlined in the novel are deliberately crafted to deliver some real aspects of Winkfield’s society.
This paper presents the argument that the presence or lack of realism in Winkfield’s novel is used to shed light on both the real and unreal aspects of its eighteenth century society.
The most striking instance of realism in the novel is the situation surrounding the main character’s activities. In the novel, the main character does not face any insurmountable challenges as is common with other heroes and heroines.
Unca Eliza is stranded on an unknown Island but she does not struggle in any manner to find her way around. In many works of fiction, the labors of the main characters and their self-subsistence are often used to make them real and relatable.
Upon her arrival at the Island, the main character stumbles upon a ‘magical’ manuscript that makes her journey through the strange Island to be quite easy (Winkfield 23).
Eliza is also rewarded with several goodies upon her arrival at the Island. The main character’s smooth sailing makes it hard for self-discovery or self-determination to occur. These contradictions highlight the lack of realism in Winkfield’s novel. Self-discovery journeys are not instantaneous and they often take a toll on the travelers.
Consequently, “The Female American” appears to be exempt from the realism that is associated with authentic literature.
Another instance of misconstrued realism is revealed through the main character’s ability to fit into her newfound society. For instance, although Eliza is the stranger in the Island she is still able to supplement the hermit with survival accessories.
In addition, it appears that Eliza is able to speak different languages but the author does not offer an explanation for this ability. The main character’s multilingual abilities are a contradiction to realism. In the novel, Eliza is able to speak English, Greek, Latin, and other Native-American languages with admirable fluency (Winkfield 32).
Further research into the ‘native’ language that is used by Unca’s mother during her exchange with a Christian convert indicates that this dialect is a mixture of Indian and Greek or Hebrew.
The mixture of languages can be interpreted as lack of realism. However, the various languages could be used by the author to reiterate the hybridity of the main character. The hybridity of the Atlantic front during the eighteenth century was real and the author might have used the main character’s fantasy to highlight this fact.
On the other hand, it can be argued that Winkfield’s story like her made up language are components of unintentionally crafted fiction. Consequently, the heroine would bear no significance in relation to the eighteenth century transatlantic society.
“The Female American” was supposedly written when the first European-American encounters were taking place. Therefore, Eliza’s experiences in England should resonate with those of other American individuals who had ventured into Europe in the eighteenth century (Hunter 102).
This coincidence gives the reader a chance to explore the realism and the unreal aspects of Winkfield’s book.
During the eighteenth century, visiting delegations of Native American tribes would be received with outmost curiosity in England. Consequently, the sightings of the Native Americans and their colorful mode of dressing became artistic inspirations for Londoners.
The main character’s description appears to be in line with the artworks that depicted Native Americans. For instance, the narrator speaks of “her lank blank hair that is adorned in diamonds and flowers, and a bow and arrow that are hung on her shoulder” (Winkfield 49).
It is unlikely that a woman who is stranded in a strange Island would appear as the narrator describes her. It is important to note that the overstatement of the costumes that are adorned by the main character is only supposed to appeal to those who encounter Native American Indians in works of art.
The author’s focus on American iconography can be used to point out both the real and the unreal aspects of “The Female American”. It is also likely that the author of the book had very limited knowledge of the Americas and its inhabitants. Consequently, she has to rely on her artistic knowledge of the Americas when she was writing this book.
The American iconography continues with the resemblances between the Indian-themed monument that Unca designs in honor of her mother and the war themed monument that was installed in London around 1761.
There is enough evidence in the book to indicate that the author of “The Female American” was trying to depict her Americas in a relatable manner. Consequently, it is difficult to argue for or against the realism of Winkfield’s book using these aspects.
On one hand, the portrayal of America in the novel might be meant to satisfy the reader’s fantasies. On the other hand, the portrayal of the Americas by the author could be meant to add realism to the book. The author could also be mocking the travel-genre by trivializing the appearances of America to the people of England.
There are several aspects of the novel that articulate its realism or lack thereof but its portrayal of the Americas within England is not one of them.
One of the most obvious fantasies in Winkfield’s book involves the scenes that depict a ‘magical’ oracle. Unca Eliza, who is a Christian convert, uses a pagan oracle to impress the native Indian communities (Winkfield 79). In addition, Unca uses the oracle to prophesy about the introduction of Christianity in her community.
This scenario does not bear any similarities to any other recorded missionary accounts. It is hard to decipher what the author was trying to accomplish with this unreal incident.
Some scholars argue that the author was trying to indicate that the spiritual nature of the Indian tribes was not being taken away from them but it was just evolving into a new form. A further examination of the literature of the time indicates that oracles were not accepted in Christian circles.
For instance, one eighteenth century author explored the conflict between Christian and oracle-related issues. According to this author, there is no clear-cut difference between Christian miracles and oracle-related practices. The oracle is one of the aspects that indicate that Winkfield’s work was not meant to portray any social reality.
On the other hand, the novelist might have been setting new realism standards by portraying futuristic aspects of Christian missionary work. The popular belief among Christians in the 1700s was that the powers and abilities that were possessed by oracles were evil and diabolical in nature.
Consequently, the marriage between oracles and Christianity as is portrayed in “The Female America” defies most aspects of realism.
“The Female American” has often been considered as an unpopular but significant work of literature. The author of this book goes through a lot of trouble to hide the novel’s connection to realism and reality. The main character’s overcomes hurdles easily and integrates into her new society in record time.
This lack of realism is common in the book but there are other incidences that contradict this ‘unreal’ aspect of the book. “The Female American” is a quagmire of realism and ‘unrealness’ that is well disguised by the author.
Hunter, Paul. Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction, New York: WW Norton & Company, 1990. Print.
Winkfield, Unca Eliza. The Female American: Or, The Adventures of Unca Eliza Winkfield, New York: Broadview Press, 2014. Print.
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Updated: Jun 21st, 2019 It is hard for readers to ignore the many peculiarities that are found in Winkfield’s novel including the rare multicultural heroine and the book’s deviation from […]