Volume X, Number 2, Fall 2014

"The Rhetorical Strategy of William Apess’s 'An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man'" by Edward J. Gallagher

Edward J. Gallagher is Professor of English at Lehigh University. Email:

Pequot William Apess is an “extraordinary figure,” a “remarkable figure” (Richter 238; Warrior 189). Born in 1798, Apess was raised by abusive, alcoholic grandparents, bound at age five to a succession of white families as an indentured servant, and ran away in his early teens to serve in the War of 1812, afterwards overcoming his own problems with alcoholism, converting to Christianity, and in 1829 becoming a licensed preacher in the Methodist Church (for an overview of Apess’s life and work, see O’Connell, “William Apess”). In 1833, Apess’s preaching circuit took him to Marshpee reservation in Massachusetts, where he became, notably, the chief architect of the still generally little known Marshpee Revolt for the right of that tribe’s self-determination, “the first successful example of civil disobedience in Native American history” (Carlson 111; see also Brodeur). Beginning with A Son of the Forest, the first published autobiography by a Native American (called an “astonishing act” for a man of his culture, class, and race at that time [O’Connell, Ground xlv]), Apess published five books between 1829 and 1836, two of them going into second editions, making him “the most prolific Native author of the early nineteenth century” (Doolen 147).

What really makes Apess extraordinary and remarkable for us is his Indian activism, the fact that the arc of his career moves from “writing white” to writing “mixedblood” (Moon; Bizzell). His second book, The Increase of the Kingdom of Christ (1831), has been called “arguably regressive,” Apess’s “most orthodox Christian expression,” and the conversion narratives that comprise almost all of The Experiences of Five Christian Indians (1833) contain little “to suggest any opposition to white values, other than attacks on the hypocrisy of some Christians” (O’Connell, Ground 99; Murray 60). These early publications, it’s been said, “can certainly be read as capitulations to white discourse, or at least as unsuccessful resistances” (Bergland 122). Experiences, however, also contains “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man,” an essay described as a pivotal work, as a “turning point,” a “breakthrough” (Bergland 125; Konkle 116), as marking a transition from the “writing white” of Apess’s earlier work to the militant consciousness of Indian Nullification (1835), his report on the “insurrection” at Marshpee (for which he spent thirty days in jail), and Eulogy on King Philip (1836), his hagiography of that fearsome scourge “of cursed memory” of early New England’s most famous (virtually genocidal) Indian war, whom Apess claimed as ancestor.

As an itinerant preacher, as a circuit rider, giving speeches and offering sermons was Apess’s daily business, and the thirty-some instances of anaphora in a fifteen-paragraph piece (variations on “Now I will ask”), the sixty-some rhetorical questions, and the handful of direct audience addresses all clearly show the creative roots of “Looking-Glass” in oral delivery. One can’t help imagining Apess in a lecture hall or church conjuring up the verbal mirror in which whites would see reflected, memorably and forcefully, Jesus as a man of color, whites outnumbered by people of color 15-1, black principles rendering white legislators people of color, the Massachusetts law against marrying across the color line secretly but routinely broken, an Indian proud of his color, future race conflict, and, encompassing all, whites as the cause of Indian degradation, whites needing conversion, and Indians as the true Christians. Such are the shocking reversals of Apess’s mirror wielded as a “political instrument” (Donaldson 211). Here in the “deliberate reversals of the vocabulary of subordination” is the emergence of “Indian rights consciousness,” the birth of the “oppositional mode,” and the mark of an “anticolonial refusalthat have caused critics to reverence “the tradition of political resistance that [Apess’s] works originate” and to call his oeuvre “one of the period’s most powerful rebukes to U.S. imperial authority” (O’Connell, Ground 99; Carlson 110; Donaldson 202, 212; Bergland 119; Doolen 147).

So, we know what Apess’s “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man” is: “a condemnation of [his] audience,” “a meditation on the politics of skin color,” “a polemic against white racist attitudes,” an expose of “white hypocrisy,” a “story of survivance,” “the voice of social justice,” “an unrelenting diatribe on racism” (Bergland 137; Konkle 116; Murray 60; Gussman 112; Krupat, “William Apess” 107; Krupat, Voice in the Margin 174; Peyer 155). Yet even after effective canonization for two decades in the Heath and Norton anthologies of American literature that blanket our American culture curricula, we still don’t know enough about how “Looking-Glass” works. We know what Apess is doing but not so much about how he is doing it, even though, as prominent Native American literature scholar Arnold Krupat claims, the "writing effectivity" of the text is in large measure the result of its "powerful language and style" ("Resisting Racism" 75). Though there are excellent commentaries on such essential, individual aspects of Apess’s rhetorical strategy as the metaphor of the mirror, the play with color, and “creative visualization” of alternate communities, and though Patricia Bizzell comes near to treating the sermon as a whole, only Krupat claims to offer "what used to be called [a] close reading" of "Looking-Glass" ("William Apess" 103). What I’d like to do here is to offer an even closer reading than Krupat’s and to correct what I see as a serious error in his interpretation of Apess’s conclusion in order to reveal more comprehensively how Apess — through language, style, and structure — constructs or packages his attack on his white audience.

From the perspective of Apess’s rhetorical strategy, the most immediately obvious elements of the speech are the relationship with his audience generated by the aforementioned overabundance of anaphora and rhetorical questions (in tandem), as well as the nature of his terms of direct address. Thirty-some times in fifteen paragraphs, Apess begins a thought unit with a variation of the first-paragraph’s “Now I ask.” Sometimes the anaphora is impertinent (“I would ask one question more”), sometimes dripping with irony (“let me ask you a few sincere questions”), sometimes imperial (“I ask again”), and sometimes – exactly four times actually — Apess even ventriloquizes an answer (variations on “you may say”), but the overwhelming impact stems from the sheer quantity of repetition (O’Connell, Ground 157, 158, 159; 158, 159, 159, 159; all further references to Apess’s text will be to the version in O’Connell). We quickly realize that Apess is not assuming the time-honored role of “earnest inquirer after knowledge” as some have suggested (for example, Murray 61), but, rather, that he is a gadfly with a vengeance, a gadfly on a menacing mission. Apess continually pins and pressures his audience with this anaphora. Before long he must seem to his audience uncomfortably obsessive and aggressive, clearly accusatory, relentlessly prosecutorial.

Apess, practicing what we might call the pedagogy of emasculation and infantilization, inflicts similar “damage” on his audience with the sixty-some rhetorical questions in those fifteen paragraphs. Since, in effect, the “ask” is simultaneously the “answer” with a rhetorical question, these sixty-odd interrogations – which run the gamut from the innocuous to the insinuating to the incriminating to the incendiary – are meant to belittle and baffle and embattle his audience. For example, in the opening paragraph, Apess asks, innocently, “Is it right to hold and promote prejudice?” Who could fail to answer? And who could fail to answer “no”? But then there’s a trap in a later question like “Did you ever hear or read of Christ teaching his disciples that they ought to despise one because his skin was different from theirs?” – a trap that is likely to produce a mental stammer – a defensive “no, but . . .” at the very least (158). And a tortured silence might be the only response to the lack of easy exit to an even later, consciously antagonistic question like “Is it not the case that everybody that is not white is treated with contempt and counted as barbarians?” (158). And what can the audience do but impotently boil or perhaps “savagely” boil over at the personal charge of a near-final “How often do you beat your wife” kind of question like “Can you deny that you are not robbing the Indians daily?” (160)?

The trajectory of the pain inflicted on the audience by both the anaphoras and rhetorical questions, as we can see, is, by design, more intense as the speech goes on. The attack on the audience builds. The same can be said for the several terms Apess uses to address his audience. Early on, Apess addresses the audience warmly as “friends” or blandly as “readers,” but, all of a sudden, bringing the subject of skin color dramatically center stage, Apess polarizes their relationship by unexpectedly addressing them as “white men” (156, 157, 157). And then, deep in his speech, when the moral distance between Apess and his white audience is greatest, Apess exacerbates even that chasm by addressing, with chilling irony, “my white brother” (159). I’m not sure that the irony of this last phrase, used precisely at the climactic time when Apess is exploding the potential for a white-red family by the legal obstacles to intermarriage, has been sufficiently appreciated. I sense an underlying tendency among some commentators to want to “Christianize” the ultimate purpose of “Looking-Glass” by tempering Apess’s revelation of white hypocrisy with the belief that it will change their behavior. In my view, however, Apess’s primary goal here is to condemn not convert, to hurt not to heal. In my view, the Apess of “Looking-Glass” was in a Marshpee state of mind. In fact, the reference to whites carrying off valuable timber (156), precisely the core issue of the legal case at Marshpee, resistance to which got Apess arrested and imprisoned, identifies a version of “Looking-Glass” as the sermon on the “soul-harrowing theme of Indian degradation” that Apess describes in Indian Nullification, one that “gave much offense to some illiberal minds, as truth always will when it speaks in condemnation” (172). In my view, “Looking-Glass” was meant to be mean, as I now shall go on to develop even further, and it succeeded.

“The reasons [for Indian degradation] have to be sought in the white man,” says David Murray, “and in claiming to be holding up a looking-glass for the whites, Apes [sic] is performing a very complicated manoeuvre.” To wit, Murray identifies, first, the ambiguity of the mirror, “which allows us to visualize either an Indian looking at himself, or an Indian holding up a mirror so that the white man can see himself,” and, second, the attack on ethnocentrism “by an extended play on the idea of skin and colour” (61). But I would now like to take a much more comprehensive view of Apess’s complicated maneuvering by examining the way he manipulates his audience. In a progressive series of six moves, Apess introduces the subject of Indian degradation in a relatively innocuous way, then gradually “colors” both himself and his audience, identifying himself as victim and implicating them as victimizers, before relegating his “white brothers” to a limbo between blissful ignorance of their culpability and blessed incorporation into the community of Good Samaritans.

Apess begins his talk on the serious subject of Indian degradation in disarming fashion. The essential features of his first move in “Looking-Glass” are a bonding with his audience, a virtually passionless broaching of the subject, and a complete absence of racial causation. Apess and his audience are joined as “fellow creatures,” fellow Christians, traveling the same life journey to meet the God of both the white man and the Indian (155). There is no difference between them. They share, in fact, a democracy of rum: the debilitating vice so often identified just with the Indian is described as sweeping millions of “red and white men” into the grave with equal “sorrow and disgrace” (155; emphasis added). Moreover, in a striking, even shocking phrase — surely an audacious affirmation of racial intimacy for an Indian – Apess even suggests that “here” (that is, in the enclosed space of the church or lecture hall speech site), “among those who are civilized” (155), it is possible for him and his audience to think of achieving racial equality and a mutual recognition of the need for justice.

The image of Indian degradation that Apess gives in his opening paragraph is lean and stark. The Indians, he says objectively, are “the most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world,” and the New England reservations are “complete place[s] of prodigality and prostitution” (155). Neither Apess nor his audience seem especially intimately involved with the revolting conditions, however, much less with their cause or remedy. Apess graciously gives his audience the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that many may be justifiably “ignorant” of this nearby slice of low life, but his invitation to lift the veil is rather casual, rather understated. “Let me for a few minutes turn your attention to the reservations” is all he says, without hint that a permanent shattering of moral consciousness is his real aim (155). And instead of telling directly what he himself saw or, more importantly, what he personally may have experienced about reservation conditions, Apess invents as mediators a wandering “gentleman and lady of integrity and respectability” through whom to view the sex-slaved, rum-cursed Indian women and their debilitated children. Apess supplies only a simple coda from his own perspective, and even so with a tone bordering that of a detached visitor: “it is a fact that I have seen them as much so” (155).

Even the potentially very tough questions about the treatment of the Indians are posed to the audience in an oddly polite way here in the beginning. “Now I ask if degradation has not been heaped long enough upon the Indians,” Apess writes, as if the length of time is the issue with degradation not the justice of it (155; emphasis added). And, he asks further, “can there not be a compromise” over how to treat the Indians (155)? Compromise, a political not a moral act — as if inhumanity is a negotiable rather than an always reprehensible behavior. And as for prejudices? They’re wrong, so “why not put them all away,” suggests Apess back-handedly, as if storing prejudice rather than eradicating it would be acceptable (155). Finally, Apess gives four explicit reasons for Indian degradation: an economic system that forces the men to work far from home, a legal system that treats them as minors, evil Indian agents and neighbors, and lack of education (155-56). None of the reasons implicate or accuse the immediate white audience, who are therefore free to blame bad systems, bad guys, and even bad luck for Indian degradation – but not themselves ― if they care to blame at all. The real reason, racial discrimination, goes unmentioned. In short, the Apess of the introduction to “Looking-Glass” is harmless. There is nothing yet to disturb white complacency, nothing to raise white defenses, nothing to, as it were, ruffle white feathers.

In a second move, however, Apess ratchets up the racial tension a notch. The bond with his white audience lingers, first, when he asserts that in “our [shared] view” Indians are “ingenious” and “men of talents,” and, second, when he implies that the tactics used to destroy the Indians would destroy white culture as well, and, third, when he addresses his audience as “friends” (156). But the essential feature of this second move is a color-coding schema that initiates racial division and escalates audience engagement with racial discrimination. In this second move, Apess colors himself red, colors legislative leaders black, colors his audience white, positions the whites in between the red and black, and asks them to sample the injustice of discrimination on the basis of skin. In this way, Apess enlists, or tries to enlist, his white audience in the Indian cause without incriminating them. Simultaneous with the institution of a color-coding schema, and with similar purpose, is the institution of a pronoun-schema. “We” are the Indians; “you” are the audience; and “they” are the racist legislators. The “you’s” are positioned between the “we’s” and the “they’s,” members of neither camp, but encouraged to align with the “we’s” against their color (156).

Apess’s questions in this second movement of “Looking-Glass” are much tougher now: why are Indians effectively being murdered by inches? why aren’t Indian men of recognized talent educated? And here is an instance in which the rhetorical question is followed by what we might call (since it too is invented for effect) a rhetorical answer: bluntly and explosively, “The skin was not good enough(156). The agony at the heart of “Looking-Glass” lies right here, in these few words. Apess precipitates a division among the whites by ventriloquizing this answer, not from the audience, who are his “friends,” and with whom he disputes about it, but from “some unholy, unprincipled men” (156). Rather than no principle, however, Apess later explains that these “unfeeling, self-esteemed characters” act on “bad principle,” and bad principle then quickly morphs into “black principle,” in fact, to cite the entire pedigree, “a most unrighteous, unbecoming, and impure black principle” (later it will morph again into “black inconsistency”) (156). The answer that the skin is not good enough also precipitates Apess’s self-identification now with the community of “red children [who] have had to suffer so much as we have” from the bad black principle, as well as his self-inclusion in the question of why the Indian “we” are not “protected in our persons and property throughout the Union” (156). Thus, the color triangle is complete, the pronoun family populated.

In contrast to the seeming lack of personal involvement in the issue of Indian degradation in the first movement, Apess here is noticeably more impatient and more insistent. His temperature is rising. Though he realizes some men “in the halls of legislation and elsewhere” will “spout their corrupt principles against it,” still, he firmly urges, “let us have a change” (156). Surfeited with the talk of equality from high-toned Christian women and men, he would now see their “example,” their action. But Apess does not blame or shame his white audience at this point. Only at the end of this second movement does he turn directly to “you” and only then for an episode of what we might call dialogus interruptus. “I would ask you,” Apess says, addressing his audience, “if you would like to be disenfranchised from all your rights, merely because your skin is white, and for no other crime” (156). That is, Apess asks, Friends, how would you feel if they do to you what they do to us? The question is bait. The question effectively invites his audience to empathize with the Indian cause for the first time, invites them to bond with Apess again but on different grounds. At the end of this second movement, then, Apess seems to be engineering his audience’s conversion.

However, and here is the crucial turn in his rhetorical strategy, rather than letting that leading question hang in the air to trigger private response from audience members, or even rather than ventriloquizing their response, Apess ventriloquizes the “black” response. Apess interrupts response to a question aimed at the “whites” in order to give a response from the “blacks,” which response ― “Injustice! awful injustice!” ― ironically, is the expected white response (156). Blacks voice the exact response anticipated from whites, and perhaps which they were silently making. There is no difference, then, between white and black, between his audience and the corrupt legislators. This merging hinges with Apess’s next move, in which, all of a sudden, “they” morphs into “you”: you – the audience ― place the black inconsistency before me; I exhort you – the audience ― to do away with the corrupt and unholy black principle of racism. In Apess’s third move, the conciliatory “Friends” shockingly morphs into the confrontational “white man” as the method of address: “Now let me ask you, white man, if it is a disgrace for to eat, drink, and sleep with the image of God, or sit, and walk and talk with them” (157; emphasis added). Now let me ask you, white man, if you have the “folly” to think, “being one in fifteen or sixteen,” that you are “the only beloved images of God?” Now let me ask you, white man, if national crimes were written on national skins, which nation would have the greatest number? Now let me ask you, white man, if you can charge the Indians with national dispossession, genocide, legalized injustice, and slavery? (157)

The rhetorical questions, tough before, are vicious now. Apess, simmering before, is hot now, and his audience is on the hot seat. There is no “they” any more, no subdivision of whites into better or worse moral categories in which the audience can take refuge. All whites are now one to Apess. The audience members are now forced to contemplate themselves in the Indian’s looking-glass as vessels of racism, agents of oppression, and exemplars of foolishness and hypocrisy. And that isn’t all. At the cultural moment of Indian removal on the national stage, the audience members are forced to contemplate an Indian solidly confident of his God-given identity, who sounds very much like he’s here to stay: “I can tell you that I am satisfied with the manner of my creation, fully,” asserts Apess, adding defiantly, “whether others are or not” (157). The reverse images of the Indian looking-glass have begun. And the purpose of Apess’s pummeling seems more like confrontation than conversion.

Apess’s next two moves revolve around ministers, first to test their Christianity since they “profess to have pure [i. e., not black] principles” and then to ask why white ministers exist and why red ones don’t (157). After adducing a substantial litany of biblical precepts to love one another as the basic message of Christ, Apess directly addresses “my brethren in the ministry,” asking them to consider whether their actions in regard to Indians imitate Christ, for “if they who teach are not essentially affected with pure love, the love of God, how can they teach as they ought?” (158). But perhaps that seemed to Apess too routine an attack strategy, too easily shaken off, for the startling feature of his fourth move is the assertion, which we can imagine took his audience quite by surprise, that white ministers, and, by extension, all the white members of all the white congregations all the world over, owe their very Christian existence to color-blindness. For in the Indian looking-glass Jesus is colored. And “you know [that] as well as I,” says Apess to his brother ministers and their memberships, wagging an accusatory finger (158).

According to Apess, Jesus included whites ― that is, the Gentiles ― then “the most degraded people on the earth” (how appropriate, how parallel ― it is, of course, precisely images of degraded Indians with which “Looking-Glass” begins) in his plan of salvation, and if he hadn’t, “there would not have been one white preacher in the world – for Jesus Christ never would have imparted his grace or word to them, for he could forever have withheld it from them” (158). And with those words the primacy of white reflection completely disappears from the Indian looking-glass. “Who are the children of God?” asks Apess. “Perhaps you may say, none but white,” he ventriloquizes as the audience response, not giving them any benefit of good sentiments, but “if so, the word of the Lord is not true” (159). “Jesus Christ and his Apostles never looked at the outward appearances,” he states, before growling condemningly and mournfully to his audience, if you can find that spirit “prevailing now in any of the white congregations, I should like to know it” (158).

The question of the paucity of Indian ministers ― “Why are not [“men of a different skin”] educated and placed in your pulpits?” ― brings up the Great Unspoken in race relations – sex – and Apess’s fifth and perhaps climactic move (159). Apess previously ventriloquized an answer by his ministerial brethren to a similar question about the existence of Indian clergy as “we have white men enough,” an answer he disposed of, as we have seen, using Jesus and His precepts (158). Now, however, when the subject is the most intimate form of human union, when the subject is the creation of family across color, the question is addressed, surely with ironic intent, to “my white brother,” and this time he will dispose of the answer using himself and Massachusetts law. The ventriloquized answer from “my white brother” – clearly denying family ties ― is that “if we admit you to all of these privileges you will want more . . . . intermarriages” (159). In the Indian looking-glass, the man-made law that discourages “the laws of God and nature by a legitimate union in holy wedlock between the Indians and whites” is hypocritical (how does it correspond to “your sayings” about the worth of Indians?), ineffectual (the “many of you” who have already broken the law will blush – that is, ironically, become “red” ― while reading this), and, the best stroke of all, absurd, for in the Indian looking-glass those who have abided by the law “have done yourselves no credit” (160). In a rather stunning inference, Apess seems to be saying that this is a law that needs to be broken more! Through the looking-glass, indeed.

As far as the fact of intermarriage is concerned, Apess finds it far from the sensational and even sinful transgression of sacred cultural codes that no doubt occasioned the law. In his Indian looking-glass world, intermarriage is routine: “it would be nothing strange or new to me,” and, in fact, he says, in effect, that some of my best friends are intermarried (160). As far as he is personally concerned with intermarriage, Apess says he is simply not interested, already having not only a wife “of the finest cast” but also, as readers can see from her conversion narrative earlier in Experiences, a wife who is one of the finest Christians. But the aspect of intermarriage that passionately engages Apess is equal rights. If I had no wife, he proclaims, “I should not want anyone to take my right from me and choose a wife for me.” And the reason? “As the whites have taken the liberty to choose my brethren, the Indians, hundreds and thousands of them, as partners in life, I believe the Indians have as much right to choose their partners among the whites if they wish” (160). What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. What’s good for the white is good for the red. Tit for tat. No cauldron of controversy for Apess over miscegenation and amalgamation. He wants only consistency. Of course, this is life in the reversed view of the looking-glass, for what Apess seeks is actually equal rights outside the law!

Apess’s sixth and final move is to give his audience a report card. And it is not a good one. “By what you read” here in the “Looking-Glass,” he says, “you may learn how deep your principles are. I should say they were skin-deep” (160). Skin deep – a highly appropriate pun in this context and a grim indictment. But does Apess offer his audience no escape from his de-grading verdict? Renee Bergland reminds us that Apess was a revivalist preacher (137), and that should further remind us that toward the end of his classic “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” even that terror-master Jonathan Edwards offers his sinners the wide open door of mercy as the goal of his classic condemnation: “And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God.” Does Apess suggest no similarly positive path for his people? No — surprisingly, Apess shows no discernible interest in his audience’s conversion. Not only is there no invitation or no pressure to change ways, but in the end Apess overlooks the state of his audience completely. His silence on this score is no doubt a powerful Indian looking-glass reversal of audience expectation. A last indignity.

Indians accuse whites of speaking with forked tongues; Apess can be accused of speaking with forked paths. This is the second time – the first being repudiation of the direction suggested by the empathy-inviting rhetorical question at the end of his second move – that Apess foregoes the path of conversion for the path of condemnation. Instead of bonding with his audience as he began, Apess creates another “you” and “they” among the whites, and here is the point at which Krupat’s "positive" and "hopeful" interpretation of the final address to the audience goes seriously wrong ("Resisting Racism" 89). You – the audience ― with your skin-deep principles think me “hard and uncharitable,” but they – such noble-spirited legislators and statesmen like Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, William Wirt, and many others ― “advocate our cause daily” knowing the Indians are not made for “hissing-stocks and outcasts” (the deliciously sensual “hissing,” with its biblical roots in Jeremiah, is one of Apess’s favorite terms for Indian ignominy; he uses it three times during his conversion narrative in Experiences) (160). The hope for the future lies with people not present in the church or lecture hall, not even with Apess himself.

In a surprising move at the end, then, Apess gestures toward whites with, one is tempted to say, white principles. Webster, universally renown for his oratory, of course, was a senator from Massachusetts at this time, but earlier he had argued for Indian land rights as counsel for the plaintiff in the landmark Johnson vs. M’Intosh case (1823), in which Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall effectively denied those rights with his “Doctrine of Discovery;” and after “Looking-Glass” was written, he would be one of the few senators to speak out against Indian removal. In an 1830 speech, Everett, then a Representative from Massachusetts and later United States Secretary of State after Webster, called “the evil” from Indian removal “enormous” and “the inevitable suffering incalculable”: “when the interests and passions of the day are past,” [we] shall look back upon it, I fear, with self-reproach, and a regret as bitter as unavailing" (299). Southerner Wirt, former Attorney General of the United States, represented the Cherokee before the Supreme Court in an 1831 landmark pre-removal case, arguing they were a foreign nation and not subject to Georgia jurisdiction.

So, the likes of Webster, Everett, and Wirt ― they are now the good guys. They are the exemplars of unselfish Christian love that Apess lavished quote after biblical quote on in the center of “Looking-Glass.” For they are the “Good Samaritans” who bind up the wounds of the “poor Indians” received among you, the thieves and robbers. There is no sense, however, that they are models for his audience to emulate, new selves for his audience to become. Apess doesn’t imagine his “hard and uncharitable” audience as salvageable here. One thinks of the “stiff-necked” people of Exodus. So, they, already converted, as it were, are, contrary to Krupat, the ones to receive Apess’s earnest concluding address: “Do not get tired, ye noble-hearted . . . the Lord will reward you” (160). And the you’s, completely unaddressed in Apess’s peroration, are left to imagine themselves shredded when the “tree of distinction [is] leveled to the earth” and the “mantle of prejudice [is] torn from every American heart” in apocalyptic racial violence ― a portent of civil war ― before “peace pervade[s] the Union” (160-61).

As stirring as this conclusion to “Looking-Glass” is, however, it is, on close inspection, unsettling, or, maybe more precisely, unsettled. The figure of Apess has achieved considerable rhetorical power and stature in the speech. In the last feature of this last move, however, Apess retires considerably. His initial reflection in his own looking-glass is as one of the red children who suffer; now here at the end, likewise, without discernible alteration, he is one of the “poor Indians [who] want their wounds done up daily” (160). That self-image has not changed. In her discussion of A Son of the Forest, Cheryl Walker points out that “to some degree, Apess must present himself as a ‘poor Indian,’ if he is to be heard at all,” and, similarly, Patricia Bizzell, discussing Eulogy, sees this exact same concluding persona there as an attempt “to disarm some of the alarm [his white audience] may be feeling at being addressed so forthrightly by a man of color, alarm that if unmoderated, might lead them to reject his message” (Walker 52; Bizzell 46). That doesn’t seem right given the apparently fearless abandon and far-reaching implications of much of “Looking-Glass,” but, if so, what a shame.

And what of Laura Donaldson’s exciting exposition of Apess’s “creative visualization” of a counterhegemonic “alternate nationness” ― that is, Apess’s evocation of an “imagined postcolonial community, expanded beyond pan-Indian concerns to encompass all those brought to the New World against their will and, indeed, all peoples of color” – what of this as a “critical weapon [against] the explosive growth of a new American nationalism” (212, 213, 218, 213)? Unfortunately, however, the power for social amelioration here in the conclusion is ceded to a real constellation of Live White Males. And where does the hope for the utopian future explicit in Apess’s utilization of the American jeremiad form that Bizzell explores come from? Not clearly, it seems to me, from the climactic Good Samaritan metaphor, which, though it may promise serial ex post facto relief to Indian degradation, is only triage against pessimism, not inoculation. And, maybe to mention just one more unsettled aspect, the God of the Golden Rule who dominates the speech’s core litany of biblical quotes becomes here, rather abruptly, perhaps too abruptly, the God of the Grapes of Wrath.

This close analysis demonstrates, I think, that Apess is to be valued not only for what he says about the roots of racial discrimination in “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man” but also for, as Krupat claims, how he says it, that is, for his artfully constructed “voice of resistance” (Bergland 111). Barry O’Connell literally begins his edition of Apess that reclaimed him for modern consideration with attention to the voice of “Looking-Glass,” a “voice [that] could have been heard in the 1960s or 1970s, possibly in the 1990s” (Ground xiii). In Indian Nullification, Apess reports that a sermon on Indian degradation that must have been at least a version of this piece “did not appear to please [the people of Great Marshes] much” (172). And no wonder. As I said before, “Looking-Glass” was meant to be mean. Excluded from the solipsistic solace of self-ignorance by Apess’s piercing ventriloquism of their hitherto unacknowledged white racism (you may cry out the skin is not good enough; you may say we have white men enough; you may say none but whites are the children of God; you may say we will want intermarriage [156, 158, 159, 159]), and yet simultaneously excluded from the Lord’s loving community of Good Samaritans, there is, in effect, no final Christian reflection of Apess’s audience in the Indian’s looking-glass. “Looking-Glass” is carefully calculated to slowly draw in Apess’s unsuspecting white audience, skewer them rhetorically, and then leave them mentally twisting in the wind.

O’Connell notes that some versions of The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe included An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man as part of the title, suggesting that the book was meant to be read as a whole, with “Looking-Glass” functioning “to subvert any reading that might accommodate these conversion stories to a justification of Euro-American culture and its primacy” (Ground lxvi). I think we can clearly see now why it would have served such a purpose superbly. 


Works Cited

  • Apess, William. “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man.” On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Ed. Barry O’Connell. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1992. 155-61. Print.
  • Bergland, Renée L. 2000. The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects. Hanover: Dartmouth College. Print. Bizzell, Patricia. “(Native) American Jeremiad; The ‘Mixedblood’ Rhetoric of William Apess.” American Indian Rhetorics of Survivance: Word Medicine, Word Magic. Ed. Ernest Stromberg. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2006. 34-49. Print.
  • Brodeur, Paul. 1985. Restitution: The Land Claims of the Mashpee, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Indians of New England. Boston: Northeastern UP. Print.
  • Carlson, David J. 2006. Sovereign Selves: American Indian Autobiography and the Law. Urbana: U of Illinois P. Print.
  • Donaldson, Laura E. “Son of the Forest, Child of God: William Apess and the Scene of Postcolonial Nativity.” Postcolonial America. Ed. C. Richard King. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000. 201-22. Print.
  • Doolen, Andy. 2005. Fugitive Empire: Locating Early American Imperialism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Print.
  • Evarts, Jeremiah. 1830. Speeches on the Passage of the Bill for the Removal of the Indians: Delivered in the Congress of the United States, April and May, 1830. Boston: Perkins and Marvin. Print.
  • Gussman, Deborah. “The Politics of Piety in Pequot Women’s Conversion Narratives.” Literary Calvinism and Nineteenth-Century American Women Authors. Ed. Michael Joseph Schuldiner and Jane Donahue Eberwein. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1997. 101-24. Print. Konkle, Maureen. 2004. Writing Indian Nations: Native Intellectuals and the Politics of Historiography, 1827-1863. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P. Print.
  • Krupat, Arnold. “Resisting Racism: William Apess as Public Intellectual.” All That Remains: Varieties of Indigenous Experience. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2009. 73-101. Print. —-. 1989. The Voice in the Margin: Native American Literature and the Canon. Berkeley: U of California P. Print.
  • —-. “William Apess: Storier of Survivance.” Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence. Ed. Gerald Vizenour. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2008. 103-21. Print.
  • Mintz, Steven. 1995. Native American Voices: A History and Anthology. St. James: Brandywine Press. Print.
  • Moon, Randall. “William Apess and Writing White.” Studies in American Indian Literature 5.4 (1993): 45-54. Print.
  • Murray, David. 1991. Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing, and Representation in North American Indian Texts. Bloomington: Indiana UP. Print. O’Connell, Barry. 1992. On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P. Print.
  • O’Connell, Barry. “William Apess.” Native American Writers of the United States. Ed. Kenneth M. Roemer. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. 21-29. Print.
  • Peyer, Bernd. 1997. The Tutor’d Mind: Indian Missionary-Writers in Antebellum America. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P. Print.
  • Richter, Daniel K. 2001. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge: Harvard UP. Print.
  • Walker, Cheryl. 1997. Indian Nation: Native American Literature and Nineteenth-Century Nationalisms. Durham: Duke UP. Print.
  • Warrior, Robert Allen. “William Apess: A Pequot and a Methodist under the Sign of Modernity.” Liberation Theologies, Postmodernity, and the Americas. Ed. David Batstone. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.