Thesis Title

Captured Image: Creating Textual Images of First Peoples

Date of Graduation

Fall 2003


Master of Arts in Writing



Committee Chair

George Jensen


Who are American "Indians"? They are not "Indians" at all but in their ancient languages, "People." If European and Euro-American writers have not been accurate about the names of the People, how accurate is the bulk of what we know about them? This thesis aims to critically examine how image-makers used the power of the written word to capture First Peoples in the text, redefining, rescripting, and re-imaging people as objects. "Indians" as we know them are largely imagistic constructs. In seeking to substantiate this premise, this study begins with the literature of the Conquest Period from 1492 to the end of the sixteenth century, examining how writers used conscious rhetorical and imagistic strategies to create politically acceptable images of People who could be easily subjugated. The study then examines how the Puritan writers used rhetorical and imagistic strategies to create theo-ideological images that helped justify Puritan expansionism and dispossession of the Peoples' lands. The texts of the American frontier missionaries are investigated, finding that their imagery was also consciously political and pejorative,creating images of "wretched Indians" who needed the missionaries' efforts. Finally, the role of ethnography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is investigated, finding that science and scholarship, by studying primitive cultures, have done much to invade and destroy those very cultures by producing textual images of them that have been misused. This study concludes that the very act of writing about non-literate societies is fundamentally unfair and harmful to them since they do not have the tools to participate in their own imagistic constructions. The larger application is that literate societies must respect the right of non-literate societies to self-determination, and that in traditional societies that have become acculturated, only members of those traditional societies have a right to produce texts and images of their society.

Subject Categories

Creative Writing


© Jeriel E Bingham