Friday, February 25, 2011

"wild Indians" in Dickens' DAVID COPPERFIELD

On our road trip last weekend we listened to David Copperfield (audio book). I enjoyed it more than I expected, but noted Dickens' use of "wild Indians..."

In chapter 4, Murdstone, the sadistic man who married Davy's mother (Davy's father is dead), decides to punish Davy by beating him with a cane. To start, he grabs Davy in a headlock. Davy pleads with him, to no avail, and so, Davy bites him.  This makes matters worse. Murdstone decides Davy must be sent away to boarding school, and that he must wear a sign on his back that says "Take care of him. He bites." (p. 57)

In chapter 6, Davy is at the school. It is a break when the students are gone. He worries of what will happen to him when they return and read the sign, but a boy named Traddles arrives first. He is sympathetic towards Davy and introduces him to other students as they arrive, by pretending that Davy is a dog. Here's the passage (p. 61):

Some of them certainly did dance about me like wild Indians, and the greater part could not resist the temptation of pretending that I was a dog, and patting and smoothing me lest I should bite, and saying, "Lie down, sir!" and calling me Towzer.

There you see, Dickens using "wild Indians." Dickens using "dance about me" like "wild Indians." I'll have more to say about this... later.


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Greg and I have been reading Scottish writers lately, and the word "braves" has jumped out at us in their historical fiction. By any chance, do you happen to know if this was an import?

Debbie Reese said...

I have to do some background research on Dickens and his work. I don't know how much his books are used in today's high school classrooms.

European ideas about American Indians are rife with stereotypes. I'm wondering if James Cox's MUTING WHITE NOISE has some discussion of the European images. Maybe there's some, too, in IN THE WHITE MAN'S IMAGE.

Maggie Paloucek said...

My junior high school, located in an affluent suburb of Chicago, required David Copperfield to be read in 8th grade. Many of the students did not read it though, considering that he was paid by the word for this book. My high school had all students read A Tale of Two Cities as well, possibly also Great Expectations for certain classes. From talking to students in other high schools, Dickens was a pretty standard author in the curriculum. However, I believe that A Tale of Two Cities has been more common than David Copperfield.