Lesson 2:3; Assignment 2:6; Question #2

Susanna Moodie’s introduction to Roughing it in the Bush lacks the rough-and-ready “civilize the West” bravado common to immigration manifestos, and states the truth of most immigrant stories. It begins with a somber sentence: “In most instances, emigration is a matter of necessity, not of choice” (Moodie, n.p.). Moodie goes on to state that few people who live comfortably and well in their native lands chose to leave that comfort and stability for the wild unknown. It is those who wish to better their “condition, and… escape from the vulgar sarcasms too often hurled at the less-wealthy by the purse-proud” (Moodie, n.p.) who immigrate — people who have experienced “want of wealth” (Moodie, n.p.), through, the sense is, no fault of their own. Moodie clarifies this point by claiming that the rich and the poor are from “the same parent stock” (Moodie, n.p.), or descendants of Adam and Eve, and therefore equal in body and soul despite the material disparities they face on Earth.

As I don’t know much about Susanna Moodie, I will draw a little on what I do know about the majority of immigrants to the colonies. Most were, as we’ve been taught in lesson 2:2 and 2:3, tradesmen and farmers, but all (generally) were religious. The first immigrants who set up New England were Puritan dissenters, who believed that America was given to them as a re-do of civilization, a chance to become a “city upon a hill,” as John Winthrop wrote, to which all other cities steeped in sin and corruption could look for guidance. Moodie brings with her the same sense of renewal, even if her introduction is somber — Canada is a place where people can strip away the injustices which society has placed upon them and reinvent themselves as they “hew out the rough paths for the advance of civilization” (Moodie n.p.). This, then, is an instance where Moodie’s introduction demonstrates the stories which European settlers brought to the “new” continent which Professor Paterson elaborated in lesson 2:3 — the stories which name the Americas as a gift from God, sent to the right people as a second Garden of Eden; in essence, Canada as a continental second chance.

Yet Moodie does not completely buy into the idea.  As is evident from the succeeding paragraphs of her introduction, Moodie blames the  “speculators in the folly and credulity of… men” and their “hired orators” (Moodie, n.p.) for spreading the notion of Canada as an empty/wasted land ripe for cultivation. The immigration enthusiasts’ words masked the hard work and struggle the settlers faced in the colonies. Moodie’s critique shows that she, at least, was aware that calling Canada a gift wasn’t right. It was more something that had been stumbled upon and which was ripe with possibility; thinking of it any other way hurt the settlers and by extension, though Moodie does not explicitly say it, the Native Americans. For if something is given as a gift, it makes sense that the receiver believes that he/she can do anything they want with it. If something is found, and multiple people profess interest or claim ownership, cooperation must exist for there to be success (especially if the finders refuse to leave, as was the case in the “discovery” of the Americas). Moodie does seem to have carried the idea of Canada as a second Eden with her from Europe, but it was a moderated Eden, conditional on hard work, strife, struggle, and coexistence with the “wild land” (Moodie, n.p.) — and, presumably, its people.

But Moodie is not completely innocent of Lockean concepts of property. The concluding paragraph in her introduction demonstrates that she believed that land, once earned, was owned: “The Great Father of the souls and bodies of men knows the arm which wholesome labour from infancy has made strong, the nerves which have become iron by patient endurance, by exposure to weather, coarse fare, and rude shelter; and He chooses such, to send forth into the forest to hew out the rough paths for the advance of civilization. These men become wealthy and prosperous, and form the bones and sinews of a great and rising country” (Moodie, n.p.). In those last few words it is clear that Moodie believed that sweat and hard work were what validated ownership, and that Canada only became a country (in the sense of laws and roads, schools and farms, instead of just a land mass) through the tireless struggle of the settlers.

Moodie’s attitude in those last few words is echoed by her character’s appearance in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water. Moodie is at a diner in Alberta with a few of her friends, and proudly proclaims to Latisha, the diner’s Native American owner, that “[w]ith the exception of Archie… we’re all Canadians. Most of us are from Toronto. Archie is from England, but he’s been here for so long, he thinks he’s Canadian too” (King, 158). The irony here is that Moodie’s aside about Archie can be applied to herself and everyone in that diner that isn’t Native American, as long as “for so long” encompasses the few hundred or so years of European immigration to Canada. Moodie’s character in Green Grass, Running Water seems to believe in a time limit to immigrant status — she is completely Canadian because she is from Toronto (though before that, where did she come from? Where were her grandparents born?), while Archie is a foreigner. Yet to Latisha, and every other Native American in King’s book, every person not of Native American descent can be grouped under the umbrella of “been here so long, [they] think [they’re] Canadian too.”

I think there was a level of self-awareness in Moodie that is evident in her introduction to Roughing it in the Bush. Or perhaps not a self-awareness, but a cultural-awareness — she knew that claiming Canada as a glorious, empty, ripe-for-the-plucking second Eden was a malicious lie. She seems more concerned about the effect that lie had on the immigrants who believed it — who, putting aside the land-stealing and cultural genocide they as a group committed, did live hard and dangerous lives in Canada as they eked out a living, and shouldn’t be forgotten — than she does for the Native Americans being displaced. Yet I think that there are hints in Moodie’s writing which suggest why she believed calling Canada a second Eden was a misnomer — Eden had been empty, Canada was not. Moodie’s conflicting views on colonization, Native Americans, and immigration is perhaps best summed up by this quotation early in her book:

“…the Indian is one of Nature’s gentlemen—he never says or does a rude or vulgar thing. The vicious, uneducated barbarians who form the surplus of over-populous European countries, are far behind the wild man in delicacy of feeling or natural courtesy” (Moodie, n.p.)

While here we might accuse Moodie of classism or xenophobia (after all, it’s the European countries she sees the barbarians arriving from, not the British Empire), we also see her fight against one of the common stereotypes that Native Americans were dirty, uncivilized people. Of course, by doing so she taps into another stereotype — the Noble Savage à la Rousseau — but I believe Moodie made an effort to see what was going on in Canada, and not just report the idealized stories and anecdotes which were popular at the time. (We see modern examples of this in Green Grass, Running Water, with the Western films having the same plot of a kidnapped damsel, a love between a proud Indian chief and said damsel, and the final scene where the cowboys kill the Indians (King, 182-214). Many battles were fought where the Native Americans came out the victors, but those are rarely shown, and so each Western perpetuates the myth of Native American inferiority. So, too, could Moodie have based her description on Native Americans who were rude, and she would have had no one question her because it fit with what people already “knew” .)

In conclusion, I think that to subtract Moodie from the stories with which she had been inculcated since a child would be difficult — not only did the stories form a part of her country’s identity (Britain superior), but they were reinforced by her religion which still had a weighty influence. But I do think that Moodie’s personal experience in Canada made her think for herself — and the immigration enthusiasts, the priests, and her racist or xenophobic peers could not completely pull the wool over her eyes.

WORKS CITED

King, Thomas. “Green Grass, Running Water.” Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

Mathews, R.D. “Susanna Moodie.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, April 10, 2008. Web. Accessed June 28, 2016.

—- “Roughing it in the Bush” title page

Moodie, Susanna. “Roughing it in the Bush.” Project Gutenberg, August 2003. N.P. Web. Accessed June 28, 2016.

Tuckness, Alex. “Locke’s Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,  November 9, 2005. Web. Accessed June 28, 2016.

Winthrop, John. “City Upon a Hill.” Digital History, n.d. Web. Access June 28, 2016.

 

 

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