Race, politics and the frontier in American literature, 1783-1837

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Divided chronologically into two sections, this thesis examines how ways of conceptualising and writing about the American frontier, and the Native Americans who inhabit that frontier, reflect and participate in the emergent political and regional divisions of the early republic. Although 'the West' and 'the Indian' are pervasive images in early American literature, their meanings are indeterminate. During the Revolution, the frontier functions as a patriotic locus, the settlement of the wilderness providing a metaphor for the project of independence and nation-building. However, in the early republic, as conceptions of national destiny splinter along regional and political lines, the West and its inhabitants, white or native, take on conflicting meanings: independence and limitless potential on the one hand, savagery and degeneration on the other. Part I spans the period from the end of the Revolution to the end of the War of 1812, beginning with a survey of the contemporaneous attitudes towards the West and the Indians, represented by influential public figures of the early republic, such as Jefferson and Washington. I then consider the literary representation of the frontier by John Filson, Ann Eliza Bleecker, the pseudonymous 'Abraham Panther', Hugh Henry Brackenridge, and Charles Brockden Brown, demonstrating the ways in which their generically diverse work reflects and responds to the ideological debates about the frontier which characterise the period. Part II focuses on the literature of Jacksonian America. Race and expansionism were still at the root of ideological divisions within the nation, the frontier was still perceived to be the most appropriate subject for national literature, and the historical romance had become the dominant literary form in America. I examine the work of three writers - James Kirke Paulding, William Gilmore Simms and Robert Montgomery Bird - each of whom historicizes the frontier, legitimising the contemporary ideologies articulated in their fiction by association with an earlier 'golden age' of American history.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of London
Thesis sponsors
Award date31 Oct 2002
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Race
  • American Literature
  • American frontier
  • Native Americans
  • American West
  • Historical romance
  • American culture


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