Making Contact

From Wikousta

Jump to: navigation, search

This section aims to map out the key moments of contact in the novel, including clarifying the different kinds of contact. Contact describes the moment where two or more things have some degree of interaction. Contact may occur in the context where these two bodies are meeting for the first time as well as interactions with the land, societal customs, and forms of sovereignty. The basis of the initial contact will work to set a foundation for future moments of contact.

What Constitutes as 'Successful' Contact?

This section will also aim to highlight the moments when contact was successful within the novel. Successful contact stems from positive and negative interactive results. Positive results are determined when two or more groups of culturally diverse individuals make contact in a cohesive and functional manner. Negative results are determined when these two divergent cultural groups of individuals lack harmonization and understanding from initial contact.


[edit] Volume 1.

Contact, in terms of an interaction between at least two mediums, is heavily demonstrated within the first Volume of Richardson’s Wacousta. Contact within this volume can be examined from initial and ongoing states, as well as can be identified in terms of Indigenous-settler group interactions, settler-settler interactions (hierarchical differences within the British fort), and man settler-woman settler interactions (hegemonic differences between male and female characters). The first volume sets the foundation of the setting and moments of contact within the text, and Richardson’s writing for an intended audience facilitates strong reader-author/narrator interactions (refer to sections 10 ‘The Author’, 11 ‘The Narrator’, and 12 ‘History’ for specific details).

Indigenous-Settler Contact Examined

Moments of contact between Indigenous and settler groups within the first volume does not denote as ‘successful’ in terms of positive interactions. The instances of contact are rooted in deceit and manipulation, in which intentions of ‘success’ are attributed to fooling or punishing the other group.

Interaction between an Indigenous ‘stranger’ and the British fort catalyze provided a ‘successful’ moment of contact for the stranger. The English were “thrown into the utmost consternation by the sudden and mysterious introduction of a stranger within its walls” (16). With a “long series of hostilities [that] had been pursued by the North-American Indians against the subjects of England”, the interactions catalyzed fear and panic within the fort (16). The intrusion was regarded as an “extraordinary event” and a “pressing emergency” (19). The threats whispered against Colonel de Haldimar were not taken lightly, and thus its intentions to cause fear and panic were successful for the stranger. Within our exposition of the plot (refer to section 7 ‘The Plot, Volume 1’ for more details), this moment of contact sets the foundation of future contact between Indigenous and settler groups, as well as settler-settler conflict.

Later in the volume, a halt was commanded by Captain Blessington when a “trigger was pulled, and a small and ragged bullet sped hissing from the grooved and delicate barrel” (135). As “the only individuals visible were the Canadian[s]” (136), the English approached to inquire about the shooting. Captain Blessington insists the Canadian reveals where the shooter is “instantly, or [he] have not five minutes to live” (137). In pursuit of a ‘successful’ point of contact, it is clear that the British aim to gain information by any means necessary. The governor was not satisfied with the answers provided by the elder Canadian and threatens; "answer me truly, or I will carry off this wench as well, and if a single hair of a man of mine be even singed by a shot from a skulking enemy, you may expect to see her bayoneted before your eyes" (141-142). This point of contact, one differing from conflict and contact between the stranger and members of the fort, works to display how the British upkeep their hierarchical position over other civilizations in the area.

Significance is also held in the moment of contact in which the stranger reveals himself. A man “naked to the waist, his body and face besmeared with streaks of black and red paint […] was seen flying down the height with a rapidity proportioned to the extreme peril in which he stood” (149). The British aimed to pursue the “fugitive” (150) now insight. This point of contact bears significance as it is the moment in which the infamous stranger speaks, and addresses Colonel de Haldimar. Speaking in “the purest English accent”, the stranger announces for the Colonel to “tremble for [his] race” as “no doubt [Ellen Halloway] is another victim of [his] cold and calculating guile”, but he asserts that is shall be his last (154)! The stranger makes it clear of his hatred for Colonel de Haldimar, and with “plans of vengeance”, captures Halloway’s widowed wife as her “hatred to [de Haldimar] has made [him] love [her]” (154).

[edit] Volume 2.

Contact in Hierarchical Customs

Richardson’s embeds a prevalent theme in cultural differences between the British settlers and Indigenous people during first contact. There are variances of contact throughout all three volumes, and this entry will focus on one particular scene of cultural significance in Volume II between the Indian chiefs and the English officers and governor.

The palpable hierarchy among the ranks of the English officers is juxtaposed with the apathetic and obstinate aura the Indians exude towards that hierarchy upon entering the council room. Their deficient practice of British custom would have been a shocking and unsettling feeling to adapt to, and difficult to not perceive as intentional defiance of their norms. Richardson writes, “There were few forms of courtesy observed by the warriors towards the English officers on entering the council room. Ponteac, who had collected all his native haughtiness into one proud expression of look and figure, strode in without taking the slightest notice even of the governor. The other chiefs imitated his example, and all took seats upon the matting in the order prescribed by their rank among their tribes, and their experience in council.” (206). The English have their hierarchy, but the Indigenous also have theirs, and they are understandably not willing to waver or adhere to anyone’s customs but their own. Richardson continues, “A profound silence was observed for some minutes after the Indians had seated themselves, during which they proceeded to fill their pipes.” (206). The Indigenous stand strong and calculated during this exchange, and continue to function the way they had for thousands of years before the British arrived to their land.

In Richardson’s estimation, this could be called a successful exchange in contact because each group regards the other’s negotiating style with respect. The governor says, “This is well, […] It is long since the great chiefs of the nations have smoked the sweet grass in the council hall of the Saganaw.” (206). This scene elucidates that these two groups both have immense differences in culture and hierarchical custom, but instead of deviating from their own methods, they come into contact calmly and rationally to accomplish the common goals they all have.

Contact in Cultural and Natural Forms

It is evident to distinguish the varying cultural differences between the British and the Indigenous peoples in examination of this volume. When identifying key moments of contact, Richardson’s emphasis on nature is correlated to this resplendent tale between two groups. Contact with nature in the text signifies how each cultural group interact with the land and creatures that inhabit the environment. An example of contact between the Europeans and the land is when Captain Blessington prominently inspects his surroundings with weariness, saying that, “We are safe, while their chiefs are with us; but still it will be necessary to watch the forest closely. We cannot be too much on our guard.” (192) which signifies the mistrust that British hold over the belt of forest that surrounds them. Furthermore, when examining the above quote, Blessington is prepared to ensue violence on whatever entities might be harboured within the forest, declaring that, “If any movement of a suspicious nature be observed, let it be communicated by the discharge of a single musket, that the drawbridge may be raised on the instant.” (192), which depicts the allusion of the forest as a malevolent force that must not be trusted. In regard to the Indigenous peoples, they do not fear or question the intentions of the forest around them. Culturally, the Indigenous people uphold their customs and identities with the land by using it for hunting, gathering, and survival. Their knowledge of the land is a familiar form of contact to them, whereas the Europeans closely contrast the land to be just as allusive and wild as the Indigenous peoples. Within Vol. 2, the British Europeans entice the ideology of distrust towards a foreign and alien cultures and land through their contact with a new environment.

When characters Madeline and Clara come across a beaver in the lake, it becomes personified, “The animal, which now exhibited the delicate and glossy fur of the beaver, had gained the stern, and remained stationary within a foot of her quarter.” (305), that is further examined by the Indian that rises from the pelt of fur he was wearing, which prompts the characters to have a revelation that the Indigenous people take on the forms of nature. Furthermore, due to the comparisons drawn from the Indigenous peoples and their close contact with nature, it is conclusively symbolic to the distrust the Europeans possess towards the contact with nature, which perceives it to be deceiving and unpredictable.

[edit] Volume 3.

Valour and Gender Binary in Madeline’s First Contact

Madeline de Haldimar’s first contact with an Indigenous is during her attempt to save her father Major de Haldimar in the attack at Fort Michillimackinac. The scene illustrates and contrasts the heroism of British soldier Captain Bayton, killing an Indian and saving Madeline, from the viciousness of the Indian’s attack on the Fort. In other words, chivalries and heroism contrast archaic savagery and viciousness, which acts to distinguish British and Indigenous behaviour. Captain Bayton is portrayed as the “devoted officer” (358) and the “generous protector” (359). The Indian is portrayed as “savages”, “wildly” “yelling enemies" (359). This scene acts negatively because it is morally, ethically, and ethnically divided; the binary language heightens the sense of difference between the two cultures.

Immediately following this scene Madeline de Haldimar experiences her second moment of contact, a significant moment where she, for the first time, encounters a disguised Oucanasta as male Indigenous warrior. This scene sets up a reversal of heroism and gender agency for an Indigenous character; it explicitly juxtaposes Indigenous heroism to British; and moreover, it emphasises this reversing of valorised behaviour through a gender binary, distinctly contrasted to the prior scene. In this scene Richardson juxtaposes the stereotype of British femininity as passive and ineffective, in the context of violence and warfare, and compares it to Indigenous by characterising Oucanasta with “tomahawk at [her] side” and with “smooth brow that harmonised ill with the horrible atrocities…[an]…appearance, covered as [she] was with blood” (361). The passage insinuates she has been engaged in battle as a warrior. Agency, loyalty, and heroism in this scene therefore characterise Oucanasta as a hero, valorising, to a lesser degree and less overtly to Captain Bayton, yet nevertheless an Ingenious helps facilitate a heroic act—saving Madeline. Richardson in these two scenes illustrates a subtle effect through explicit binaries to balance and make possible admiral qualities in both cultures.

Symbolically Inverted Colonising Moments of Contact

The next significant moment of contact is the meeting between Clara, Wacousta, and the transformed Ellen Halloway. Their meeting illuminates and connects the novel's plotting, the present state of affairs of colonialism in the Canadas converging with the historical past of colonialism in Scotland; the older generation correlates with new. Richardson also distinguishes, once again, two feminine characterisations.

In this scene Ellen is characterised as a once civilized British, yet now altered, now “savage”, now corrupted by revenge of two British colonialist figures: Wacousta and Colonel de Haldimar. And her characterisation as savage is emphasised and contrasted by Clara de Haldimar: a prototypical, upper class, cultured British female—exhibiting the typical and tropological traits of a mellow-dramatic, non-agential female character—the passive listener of Wacousta’s recount. And so then Richardson portrays Ellen as “savage” because it emphasises the dual effects of colonialism: firstly, Colonial de Haldimar’s assassination with impunity and without justice of Frank Halloway; and Wacousta’s immediate and forceful claim of Ellen as his wife—which then correlates to his claim of Clara Beverley, and of course, Clara de Haldimar.

Another effect this scene has is that it then, rather indirectly, lessens the “savage” stereotype of Indigenous culture. Rather then, it emphasises Wacousta, a British “acting” as “savage”, as responsible for Ellen’s tragedy of a fallen character. This reversal is the opposite of the expected, where one would assume Indigenous is responsible for corrupting her turn from British culture to going “native”, which was a common trope in British literature. It is a moment of contact that is suggestive: it leads the reader to question the Colonel’s responsibility in Ellen’s hysterical transformation of character too. So this scene begins a series of “moments of contact” that, because of their connection to colonisation, marks a turning point in the novel, where the text begins to explicitly emphasise the morally just Indigenous culture in opposition to its immorally unjust British counterpart.

The next moment of contact is Wacousta’s retrospective account of contact with Clara de Haldimar. Reginald Morton/ Wacousta recounts his hike through the Scottish Highlands. Following Margery Fee’s allegorical reading this scene establishes a representation of first contact between three nations: Scotland, Britain, and Canada. It is a meeting point where characters are symbolic representations: Clara Beverley Scotland; Reginald Morton Britain; and Clara de Haldimar Canada. Morton’s romantic language symbolises a shift from the unromantic—harsh reality of Wacousta’s. Clara de Haldimar is described as if she is a part of Nature. His first recollection of her is not her human form; rather it is some “rustling, as of the leaves and branches of underwood” (453); an ambiguity between “the blue sky” and her “human face” (453); and then, once again, her human form becomes the sound of “rustling leaves” (453). Morton’s first contact with Clara describes Nature before it does a human form. Richardson uses pathetic fallacy to provoke an allegorical reading; Clara becomes the Scottish Highlands.

The narrator’s bias recounting and Wacousta’s retrospection leaves the novel open to ambiguity; but there leaves no ambiguity for a reading that recognises his ambiguity, his uncertainty, the blurring of fiction and reality, as he struggles to recount his first moment of Clara: “I had not traced a feature, nor could I distinctly state that it was a human countenance I had beheld; but mine was ever an imagination into which the wildest improbability was scarce admitted that it did not grow into conviction in the instant" (453). Richardson blurs reality here to give an allegorical—a dream-like quality—so that characters in this passage can be read as symbols. The overly self referencing in the novel, of literary devices, of the text calling attention to itself, particularly in this scene, supports a reading that the characters are written to take on meaning outside of the literal narrative. So Wacousta in this scene can represent the romantic—emotional half of British colonialism—to its pragmatic and realistic representation of Colonel de Haldimar’s. Clara de Haldimar then, both a body descendant of Scottish and British culture, a character that is constantly displaced, a possible wife, unknowingly fought over between potential suitor Wacousta and Sir Everard, which some could argue is a mimetic symbolisation of Morton and Colonel de Haldimar’s battle for Clara Beverley, becomes a symbol of Canada’s unknowns fate as a forming nation. This would support Fee’s argument that Richardson wrote the novel arguing for British to include Indigenous and French/Canadian peoples in the formation of the Canadas. Symbols of the Clara’s representationally blurs the tragic outcome for Canada. While the fate of Scottish Clara is determined: she is appropriated; the fate of the Canadian Clara hangs, metaphorically in the “air”. Clara, as the passive listener of Wacousta’s story, symbolises Clara as the observer—equating her to the “object”, the potentially conquered and possessed, by the “subject” Wacousta, seeking to appropriate many lands, many women. So Richardson in this scene correlates countries to humans, invoking a sense of empathy and feeling towards colonialism, a sense of reality and consequence to colonisation. But notice how Indigenous culture is not represented in this moment of contact. This moment of contact, could arguably be the first moment of contact in the novel, and the first historical moment of British colonial contact with another country. But notice how it excludes Indigenous from any part in colonisation, hence why this moment takes place in the mind of Wacousta and takes place across the Atlantic in Scotland, far from the Canadas.

Concluding and Cohesive Moments of Contact

Another moment in volume three is Sir Everard and Clara encountering “the dark form of a warrior” (501). This scene marks another moment where an Indigenous shows compassion towards “his enemy” (501). Both parties are fleeing from the chaos from the British forces attacking the Indian camp. As the Indigenous flees he navigates his course around Valletort and Clara’s course of escape. It shows a mutual and friendly “line [of] direction” (501)

Another scene marking contact is where Captain Blessington recounts the “friendly Indian” (512). This scene establishes a greater sense of cohesion between British and Indigenous cultures, marking the end of dissension and miscommunication between the two cultures. It also marks a moment of contact where the Indigenous are not just seen as willing to work together, but also presented as compassionate and intelligent. It is the “Indians” that helped “the escape of the prisoners [Frederick, Madeline, and Francis the Canadian], whom he pledged himself to liberate” (512). Richardson writes successful moments of contact as the novel concludes. One could argue this represents a twofold argument: firstly, communication between cultures is becoming clearer, therefore, cultures can work together; secondly, in order for a new nation to form it can only work through compassion and by mutually respecting the other.

[edit] Works Cited

Richardson, John. Wacousta: or, The Prophecy; A Tale of the Canadas. Carleton University Press, 1987.

Personal tools
Bookmark and Share