Maurice Shadbolt's Season Of The Jew and Michael Blake's Dances With Wolves

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

33 Pages, Grade: 2,5



I. Introduction

II. History and Definition Of The Terms „Noble“ / „Ignoble Savage“
1. History Of The Term
2. Definition Of The Noble / Ignoble Savage Concept
a) Differences In Opinion About The „Noble Savage“ Concept
b) Appearance of the „Noble“ / „Ignoble Savage“
c) Religion And Ethics Of Indigenous People
d) Behaviour And Further Criteria

III. Historical Setting, Plot And Intended Readership
1. Maurice Shadbolt’s Season Of The Jew (1986)
a) Setting And Plot
b) Intended Readership
2. Michael Blake’s Dances With Wolves (1988)
a) Setting And Plot
b) Intended Readership
3. Comparison Of Both Novels

IV. The Noble Savage And Season Of The Jew And Dances With Wolves
1. „Noble Savages“ And Season Of The Jew
a) Chapters 1 and 2: The Maori Chief, The British Soldiers And Faiweather
b) The Tuhoe People
c) Ropata And His Followers
2. „Noble Savages“ And Dances With Wolves
a) Appearance Of The Comanchen
b) Moral Superiority Of The Comanchen Compared To The White Soldiers
c) Counterarguments To The Nobility Of The Comanchen

V. The Ig n oble Savage And Season Of The Jew And Dances With Wolves
1. Ignoble Savages And Season Of The Jew
a) Chapter 22: The Matawhero Massacre
b) Racism: Fairweather And The Poverty Bay Colonists
c) Hamiora Pere As A Victim Of „Missionary Stupidity“
2. Ignoble Savages And Dances With Wolves: The Pawnee

VI. Conclusion: Stereotypes And Beyond

VII. Works Cited

I. Introduction

Confrontation of civilized Europeans with foreign „primitive“ peoples has mostly been disatvantageous for the latter. The easiest way to deal with the strangeness of indigenous people was to regard them in a stereotypical way. Stereotypes such as the „noble“ and the „ingnoble savage“ were used to deprive such cultures of their humanity and to justify colonization and genocide. These stereotypes also found their way into European literature[1]. In this work, I will analyze how the authors Maurice Shadbolt and Michael Blake deal with such stereotypes in their novels, Season Of The Jew and Dances With Wolves, respectively. I chose to compare these novels because they have many similarities but on the other hand also enough differences to make them an interesting comparison. Both novels are considered to be historical novels but there are some differences in the dealing with stereotypes, which I consider to be an important aspect of historical novels in general.

Firstly, I will draw a rough outline of the history of the terms „noble“ and „ignoble savage“ and then make a concise definition of the terms. The next step will be a short book portrait of both novels in order to compare them to each other. In the main part of this work I will analyze how the concepts of the „noble savage“ and he „ignoble savage“ are dealt with in both novels. This will be done in consideration of various aspects which before have been presented in the definition of the terms.

II. History and Definition Of The Terms „Noble“ / „Ignoble Savage“

1. History Of The Term

If one looks up the term „savage“ in the Oxford English Dictionary, one can find several entries: The term can be used in a rather neutral sense describing wild and untamed animals and landscapes, it can meen „crude“ or „cruel“ or „ferocious“ and it can be used for describing „uncivilized“ people „existing in the lowest stage of culture“[2]. The usage of the term „savage“ to describe peoples is nowadays regarded as dated and derogatory. In order to refer to those people in a politically correct way terms such as „indigenous people“ are more appropriate. But since the term „savage“ is a major subject of my work and has been in common use for centuries, I will give a rough outline of its history. My main focus will be on the history of the indigenous people of America, also formerly referred to as Amerindians, because the majority of literature about „savages“ deals mainly with those people. But the general concepts of „savagism“ were also applied to other peoples such as the Maoris and other indigenous cultures[3].

European ideas of the „savage“ evolved out of the fusion of classical mythology with observations of Renaissance travel-ethnographic writers during the Age of Discovery[4]. It is doubtful that the term „savage“ was ever used in a neutral and purely descriptive sense. Dickason assumes that because of the predominance of religion during the Renaissance Age it was used either to praise or to criticize and dehumanize a foreign culture[5]. The model of how to describe indigenous peoples was adopted from ancient authorities such as Pliny and Herodotus[6]. Those models were full of prejudices and stereotypes mainly because they were derived of logical reasoning without actual observation and evidence. The concepts of the „noble savage“ and the „ignoble savage“ existed almost parallelly throughout history[7]. While Pliny’s and Herodotus‘ descriptions of „savages“ were rather negative, Tacitus‘ Germania presents the Germani as being „intensely democratic“, friendly and hospitable[8]. In Stelio Cro’s and Hoxie Fairchild’s opinion this description of the Germani can be seen as an evidence for an early concept of the „noble savage“ which was used to be set off against the decadent and „civilized“ Roman Empire.[9]

Many centuries later, when Columbus firstly encountered Native Americans, he considered them to be beautiful in appearance and innocent in behaviour[10]. He made references to the Garden of Eden when describing them and the nature in which they lived in. To him the nakedness of these indigenous people was a symbol of purity and innocence. All these references were closely associated with the myth of the Golden Age and the „noble savage“[11]. More negative though is his considering them to be useful slaves because they appeared to be very fearful and respectful towards white Europeans because they considered Europeans to be „Gods“[12]. Right from the first encounter with foreign indigenous people there was a thought of how to exploit them. Dickason states that might and power decided which civilization was „superior“[13]. After the Native Americans noticed that the white Europeans were no „Gods“ they became more reserved and even hostile towards them: During his fourth journey, Columbus changed his attitude towards them quite drastically, because he was attacked by them[14]. They were no longer representatives of the „noble savage“ but „diabolical savages“ for him.

According to Ellingson, Marc Lescarbot was the inventor of the concept of the „noble savage“ in a narrower sense[15]: Lescarbot states in his Histoire de la Novvelle France (1609) that the „Amerindian savages“ are „truely noble“ (sic) mainly because they were hunters. Lescarbot uses the word „noble“ in the sense of being noble because of social rank. For nobles such as dukes and barons hunting was a leisure activity. Because most indigenous people also hunted, Lescarbot concluded that they were therefore also “noble“. Ellingson remarks that the nobility of Lescarbot’s savages is a different one from the romantic concept of the „noble savage“. Dryden is often mentioned in connection with the „noble savage“ concept. Ellingson makes a reference to Dryden’s play The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards (1672)[16]: „But know, that I alone am King of me. / I am as free as Nature first made man, / ´Ere the base Laws of Servitude began, / When wild in woods the noble Savage ran.“. The „savages‘“ nobility lies in Dryden’s opinion in his freedom from laws and in his courage and bravery in warfare. Ellingson questions whether Dryden’s concept of the „noble savage“ was „realistic“[17], but since I am analyzing in how far the concepts of „noble“ and „ignoble savages“ appear in fictional works that question is rather irrelevant for my work. Furthermore, also the concept of the „ignoble savage“ is not realistic either. It has to be admitted though that Ellingson has a point in questioning the actual existence of the „noble savage“ myth in ethnological science.

The concept of the „ignoble savage“ reached its climax in 1668 with Thomas Hobbes‘ description of the „savages“: He describes them as having „no Industry“, „no navigation“, „no account of Time“, „no Arts“, „no society“[18]. Furthermore, their life is supposed to be „solitary, nasty, brutish and short.“ and he considers them to be living in a state of constant war and violence. His description is absolutely negative and can be regarded as a truly stereotypical myth of the „ignoble savage“.

According to Stelio Cro, the climax of the „noble savage“ concept reached its climax with a Jesuit missionary project to establish a utopia in Guairá in 1610[19]. Among several testimonies of this ambitious project were Pierre Francois-Xavier De Charlevoix, Pedro Lozano and Pablo Hernandez. In his book Candide, Voltaire criticizes the Jesuit missionaries, describing them as ignorant and being the cause of political problems in France. Yet with his critique of the missionaries, he praises the indigenous peoples‘ nobility and the superiority of natural laws over Christianity[20].

Two other important advocates of the „noble savage“ were baron de Lahontan[21] (1666-1715) and Joseph-Francois Lafitau[22], who both use the „noble savage“ concept to criticize French society. Lahontan praises the „savages“ for their innocence and lack of property and uses them to point out the vices and evils of his own society[23]. Lafitau on the other hand admires the bravery and courage of indigenous people during warfare and at the same time criticizes the lacking heroism of the Europeans[24]. This concept of nobility during warfare is the same as already used by Dryden. Lafitau also makes references to the indigenous peoples‘ hunting and fishing habits which remind of Lescarbot’s feudalistic concept of nobility. But Lafitau also criticizes the supposedly inhumane torture practices of the „savages“. Lafitau’s concept of the nobility of the „savages“ is therefore a more limited one.

Aside from the forementioned concepts of nobility there was still a further interesting concept of the „savage‘s“ nobility: According to Ellingson, George Catlin (1796-1872) saw nobility in the beauty and „picturesque“ appearance of certain indigenous people, namely some of the Native Americans[25]. While Catlin only makes few connections between nobility and character, most descriptions make a link between outward appearance and nobility[26]. Therefore, the less „picturesque“ Indians such as the „Flat Heads“ (Indians of the Plateau and the Northwest) are also less „noble“ in Catlin’s view[27].

Jean-Jacques Rosseau was often closely associated with the concept of the „noble
savage“[28]. But Ellingson states that Rosseau in fact never used the term “noble savage“ and was not even very enthusiastic about the indigenous peoples‘ „nobility“[29]. So Rosseau’s influence on the myth of the „noble savage“ may be overestimated. Nonetheless, Rosseau still uses characterisations of indigenous people to point out the vices of European society[30].

After Rosseau, there were no more new variations of both concepts since most parts of the world were already colonized and there was therefore no more need to further put these ideologically motivated stereotypes into the center of public attention: Roy Harvey Pearce marks the year 1851 as the „death of savagism“[31]. He names two works as proof: Schoolcraft’s Historical and Statistical Information and Morgan’s League of the Iroquois, both printed in 1851. They revealed so many complex details about the life of indigenous people that they could no longer be considered as mere „savages“ by serious ethnologists[32].

The stereotypes survived in the fictional genre of literature though. The first pre-fictional account concerning indigenous peoples was the purportedly authentic captivity narrative during the American Frontier Period[33]. According to Barnett, it had its origin in Cotton Mather’s Decennium Luctuosum (1699)[34], a Puritan account of white-Indian confrontation. It was a very unfavorable account about the Native American giving further prominence to the „ignoble savage“ concept. The Indians are always depicted as inhumane and cruel „devils“ while the white captives‘ endurance of torture was praised[35]. It was ideologically used to provoke the reader’s hatred against the Indians and to take vengeance against them for the supposedly committed atrocities[36]. The captivity narrative was in fact nothing more than an apology for white brutality against the Indians. In the 1820s, the captivity narrative was replaced by the genre of frontier romance[37]. Soon a love story was implemented in these works as a plot addition[38]. Famous examples of the frontier romance are Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales [39]. In these novels, there are the obligatory „bad Indians“ and sometimes „good Indians“ as a counterparts. Barnett actually distinguishes between three stereotypes: the „noble savage“, the „good Indian“ and the „bad Indian“/“ignoble savage“[40]. According to Barnett, the difference between the „noble savage“ and the „good Indian“ lies in their relationship with the whites: While the „noble savage“ is completely untouched by white civilization[41], the „good Indian“ is an ally of the whites and enjoys the benefits of white civilization. While the „nobility“ of the „noble savage“ lies in his uncorrupted and innocent life in nature, the „nobility“ of the „good Indian“ comes from his sacrifice for his white friends – he is a „noble“ martyr. There was no effort made to depict the real Indian, and all three stereotypes of Indians, whether „good“, „noble“ or „bad“ were regarded inferior to European civilization[42]. Critics soon wondered, if the Indian subject had enough substance for writing novels about them[43]. In my opinion, the reason for this is that stereotypes were soon exhausted and could in fact only lead to „flat“ characters in a novel.

2. Definition Of The Noble / Ignoble Savage Concept

a) Differences In Opinion About The „Noble Savage“ Concept

While there was undoubtedly a concept of the „ignoble savage“, Ellingson deconstructs the „noble savage“ myth and claims that it actually never existed[44]. But she has a very narrow definition of the „nobility“ of „savages“ in mind while other authors such as Stelio Cro or Olive P. Dickason[45] understand the „noble savage“ myth in a wider, less absolute sense. In my work, I will follow the wider definitions of Stelio Cro and Hoxie Fairchild. It has to be admitted though, that one has to be careful and critical in labelling indigenous people depicted in literature as either „ignoble“ or „noble“ unless they are really described in a very stereotypical way which leaves no doubt.

Interestingly, many of the objective criteria attributed to the „noble“ and the „ignoble savage“ were the same. Only their subjective interpretation differed and was reliant on the ideological aim at describing indigenous people. For example, nudity was either a „natural“ thing and therefore „noble“ or it was „sinful“ and „animal-like“, used to point out their „ignobility“[46].

Now, as I will proceed to concrete criterions used to describe the „savages“, I will differentiate only where necessary, because only some criteria belong exclusively to the categories „noble“ or „ignoble savage“, while others are brought in connection with „savagism“ in general.

b) Appearance of the „Noble“ / „Ignoble Savage“

Permanent nudity was the most apparent outward difference between „primitive“ indigenous and „civilized“ European people[47]. Nudity of the indigenous people was mostly dealt with in orthodox religious terms: Many Europeans asked themselves the following question: If all people were really descended from Adam and Eva and were subject to the Common Sin and therefore ashamed because of their nudity, why were the indigenous people still naked and not at all ashamed?[48]

One camp had the idea that indigenous people innocent and childlike just as nature had taught them to be. They were considered to be living in the Golden Age.[49] This fits into the concept of the „noble savage“, which was supported by many ancients, who saw in the indigenous peoples‘ nudity an evidence, that these people were content and not striving for riches.[50] But the more prominent opinion was, that the „savages“ were simply „sinful“ because of their nudity[51]. Nudity was connected to a lack of social order and therefore regarded as something negative. In European society during the Renaissance Age, a person’s status was judged by his or her clothing[52]: The more clothes one had on, and the more ornamented and rich they were, the higher the status was. No wonder then that the naked „savages“ were viewed as most „inferior“ people. Because of their nudity they were simply regarded as „uncivilized“[53]. They were also described in terms of bestiality because of their nudity and „strange“ behaviour[54]. They were compared with animals of all kinds, which illustrates that they were not regarded as human beings. Only few people like Montaigne were open-minded enough to regard indigenous people as human beings and not as animals[55].


[1] Pearce, Roy Harvey, Savagism And Civilization. A Study Of The Indian And The American Mind

(Baltimore/London, 1977), p. 196..

[2] „Savage“, The Oxford English Dictionary, R. W. Burchfield, James A. H. Murray, Henry Bradely, W. A. Craigie

(Ed.), Second Edition, (Oxford 1989).

[3] Ellingson, Terry Jay, The Myth Of The Noble Savage (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, 2001), p. 267.

[4] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 11.

[5] Dickason, Olive Patricia, The Myth Of The Savage. And The Beginnings Of French Colonialism In The Americas

(Edmonton, 1984), p. 63.

[6] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 18.

[7] Dickason, The Myth Of The Savage, p. 81.

[8] Fairchild, Hoxie Neal, The Noble Savage. A Study In Romantic Naturalism (New York 1928), p. 4.

[9] For further information I refer to Fairchild, Noble Savage, p. 4 ff. and Cro, Stelio, „Antiquity, America, And the

Noble Savage“, in: Wolfgang Haase, Meyer Reinhold (Ed.), The Classical Tradition And The Americas, Volume I:

European Images Of The Americas And The Classical Tradition, Part 1 (Berlin/New York, 1994), p. 379 - 418,

here: 384.

[10] Ouellet, Réal; Tremblay, Mylene, „From The Good Savage To The Degenerate Indian: The Amerinidian In the

Accounts Of Travel To America“ (Transl. Dominique O’Neill), in: Germaine Warkentin, Carolyn Podruchny

(Ed.), Decentring the Renaissance. Canada And Europe In Multidisciplinary Perspective, 1500 – 1700

(Toronto/Buffalo/London 2001), p. 159 – 169, here: 160.

[11] Cro, Antiquity, America..., p. 394.

[12] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 14.

[13] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 83.

[14] Ouellet, From The Good Savage To The Degenerate Indian, p. 162.

[15] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 21 ff.

[16] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 36.

[17] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 41.

[18] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 52.

[19] Cro, Antiquity, America,..., p. 405 ff.

[20] Cro, Antiquity, America,..., p. 409.

[21] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 65 ff.

[22] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 76 ff.

[23] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 69-70.

[24] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 77.

[25] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 178 ff.

[26] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 185.

[27] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 186.

[28] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 80 ff..

[29] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 81.

[30] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. 82 – 83.

[31] Pearce, Savagism And Civilization, p. 134.

[32] Pearce, Savagism And Civilization, p. 134.

[33] Barnett, Louise K., The Ignoble Savage. American Literary Racism, 1790 – 1890 (Westport, 1975), p. 3 ff.

[34] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 4.

[35] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 6.

[36] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 5.

[37] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 21.

[38] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 59.

[39] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 61.

[40] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 80 ff., p. 86 ff., p. 90 ff.

[41] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 87.

[42] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 87.

[43] Barnett, Ignoble Savage, p. 24-25.

[44] Ellingson, Noble Savage, p. xiv, xvii.

[45] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. xiv.

[46] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 50 – 51.

[47] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. xii.

[48] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 39, 51 –52.

[49] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 51.

[50] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 50 – 51.

[51] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 50.

[52] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 50.

[53] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 51.

[54] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 51 – 52.

[55] Dickason, Myth Of The Savage, p. 56.

Excerpt out of 33 pages


Maurice Shadbolt's Season Of The Jew and Michael Blake's Dances With Wolves
University of Göttingen
Literature of New Zealand
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ISBN (Book)
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This Termp Paper deals comaratively with the image of the noble savage in shadbolts season of the jew and michael blakes dances with wolves (from the movie with kevin costner). with a detailed introduction about the history of the noble and ignoble savage-concept.
Maurice, Shadbolt, Season, Michael, Blake, Dances, With, Wolves, Literature, Zealand, Neuseeland, Noble Savage, Edle Wilde, Komparatistik
Quote paper
Oliver Steinert-Lieschied (Author), 2005, Maurice Shadbolt's Season Of The Jew and Michael Blake's Dances With Wolves, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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