2.6 : Reading Between the Lines of “Roughing it in the Bush”

2] Read Susanna Moodie’s introduction to the third edition of Roughing it in the Bush, 1854. I use the Project Gutenburg website which has a ‘command F’ function that allows you to search the entire document by words or phrases. Moodie’s introduction is often read as a warning to would be emigrants as well as an explanation of why her family emigrated from Britain. See if you can find echoes of the stories discussed above: a gift from god, a second Garden of Eden, an empty/wasted land, the noble but vanishing Indian, and the magical map. By echoes I mean reading between the lines or explicitly within Moodie’s introduction. Discussing what you discover, use your examples as evidence to write a blog that explores what you think might have been Moodie’s level of awareness of the stories she carried with her. And accordingly, the stories that she “resurrects’ by her appearance in the Dead Dog CafŽ in Green Grass Running Water.

With my previous studies in art history the theme of the vanishing Indian is one that presents itself quite often in nineteenth century art. From looking at paintings of American landscapes by artists like Thomas Cole or Asher Durand you can see a lot of different hints that point to a dominant belief that the Natives were a disappearing race, and this was accepted as a fact that was as natural as the changing seasons in the landscapes that they painted. The landscapes with their wild beauty, and with no traces of Native settlement reflect the belief that was held by these painters that the land was the remains of the biblical garden of Eden, given as a divine gift by God for the Europeans to colonize. The American painters of the day who took up the vanishing Indian theme were also heavily influenced by literature that addresses the same theme. Novels like The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper and poems like “A Walk At Sunset” by William Bryant Cullen were instrumental in painting a romanticized picture of the situation for Native Americans at the time. The reality was that the Indian Removal act which was implemented by president Jackson in 1830, was forcing Native settlements to move further and further westward and away from their homeland. However, it is clear from viewing the works of landscape painters, and reading the works of the poets and novelist at the time that the situation for the Natives was seen as a natural occurrence, comparable to changes in nature, like the setting sun in Bryant’s poem. With regards to Susanna Moodie and her book Roughing it in the Bush, I’m uncertain if the works of Cole, Cooper, and Bryant would have influenced her awareness of the situation for Natives in Canada at the time, but her introduction betrays many of the same patterns of thought that influenced American art and literary circles.


In Moodie’s introduction for her third edition of Roughing it in the Bush there are some implicit mentions of themes that the American painters and writers took up in their work. Until the last paragraph where these themes can be identified explicitly, Moodie’s introduction requires some reading between the lines to find the colonial discourse that Dr. Paterson has introduced us to this lesson. Moodie’s introduction takes the tone of a warning for those considering immigration to Canada. She stresses that the life of an immigrant is tough, and not for those whose “hand has long held the sword”. No, Moodie makes it clear that the immigrant life is not suitable for the privileged, but it is for the ordinary and underprivileged citizens who will be able to escape the burden of class hierarchies and make “the land of their adoption great”. Even the use of the word “adoption” puts the settler in a position where they are in a position of control. But in control of what exactly? Moodie’s introduction never makes any mention of the Native inhabitants of the land. This is where reading between the lines is important, because sometimes omissions speak volumes, and Moodie’s omission of the Natives in her text about their land supports the Vanishing Indian theme. Clearly Moodie is suggesting that the immigrants will have control over the land, and she is also suggesting that Native inhabitants are barely distinguishable from the land, and therefore not worth mentioning. Perhaps her awareness of the belief that the Natives were doomed to extinction influenced her omission of them from her introduction.

Works Cited

Avery, Kevin J. “Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886)”. The Met Museum. October 2009. Web. June 27 2016.

Avery, Kevin J. “Thomas Cole (1801-1848)”. The Met Museum. August 2009. Web. June 27 2016.

Cole, Thomas. Shroon Mountain, Adirondacks. Oil painting, 1838; in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Web. June 27 2016.

Cullen Bryant, William. “A Walk At Sunset”. The Idle Man 1 no. 3. 1821. Web. June 27 2016.

Fenimore Cooper, James. “The Last of the Mohicans”. Book Cover, Photograph. n.d. Web. June 27 2016.

Moodie, Susanna. “Roughing it in the Bush”. Book Cover, Photograph. n.d. Web. June 27 2016.

Moodie, Susanna. Roughing it in the Bush.. Project Gutenburg, 18 January 2004. Web. June 27 2016.

8 thoughts on “2.6 : Reading Between the Lines of “Roughing it in the Bush””

  1. Hi Natasha,

    I liked that you connected this topic to artists. I’d love to add on about theatre and plays at the time. I found it interesting that popular plays of the time were mainly based off of biblical stories. The Bible was introduced by Europeans so it seems that playwrights were not interested in preserving Aboriginal stories. It is not until more recent years that playwrights have written anything relating to ancient mythology of Aboriginal people, such as Tomson Highway’s plays.
    I also enjoyed your ‘reading between the lines’ of Roughing it in the Bush. I think this type of analysis of the text is from a modern day audience and would not necessarily be read that way at the time. What do you think?


    1. Hi Stef,

      Absolutely, the bible must have been one of the strongest influences for writers and artists at the time. Especially with artists holding the belief that the land they were painting was the remains of the Garden of Eden, the bible must have held a particular significance for the colonizers. If they could believe that their place in the land was God’s divine will, then it made the disappearance of the Natives seem more palatable, as if it were just part of God’s plan.

      My analysis of Moodie’s text has definitely been influenced by what I’ve learned in other classes and this class. But I suppose for Moodie and the readers of the day would have not seen the text as having anything to do with the Natives. I think at the time the text would have been read as inspirational for settlers. For them to believe that it was God’s plan for them to claim the land would have probably resonated very strongly for the Christians in Canada in the late 19th century. Thanks for the comment!

      – Natasha

  2. Hi Natasha!
    I really enjoyed your addition of artists and their omission of Native peoples. Your comment about how the situation for the Natives was seen as a natural occurrence really struck me because although I know that there has been a long standing erasure of the Indigenous, I hadn’t thought about how their genocide was seen as natural. It really makes me wonder if these people – artists, poets, and writers – knew what they were implying or were truly just ignorant. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure if I want to know the answer. It would be horrible to think that these people intentionally left out the Native people to paint a picturesque Canada, but then again, that still happens today.

    1. Hi Sam,

      It is a disturbing to think about how writers, poets, and painters would effectively paint and write the Natives off of their landscape as it was happening literally in Canada! It really does change the way one reads literature, or looks at paintings from this time. Paintings and books from Moodie’s day which seem to be just about Canada’s wilderness and its natural beauty, actually has a lot to do with racism towards the Natives! Not such a pretty picture after all. Thanks for the comment!

      – Natasha

  3. Hi Natasha,

    Along with our other classmates, I was also really happy when I saw the direction your post took and how you brought in your discussion on nineteenth century art. I think my favourite part of being in higher level courses now is that we can start making bridges between our studies and fill in some gaps in information.

    That being said, I agree with the conclusions that you drew. I think that Moodie was heavily influenced by the larger ideas of European colonizers of the time. I can see how she would easily ‘other’ the Natives and see them to be as irrelevant as the wilderness around her. In that same context, I think that she has a very selfish perspective, which contributes to her racism.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      Glad you enjoyed this post! I was worried that I would be out of my element as an art history major in an English lit course but I’ve found the exact opposite is the case! I’ve really enjoyed connection what I’ve learned in other courses with the material we are looking at in this one. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Hi Natasha,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I too noticed the absence of the First Nation peoples in Susanna Moodie’s introduction, and wondered if it was because she did not have meaningful contact with them or she did not find a place for them in her narrative?
    You illustrate the “vanishing Indian” theme really well with the visuals. There is a strong sentiment of “we are the new landlords” by divine providence and hard labour, and this “pristine” land is ours and only ours. It is sad to see peoples being romanticized to the backdrop as vanishing and without relevance.

    – John

  5. Hi John,

    I’m not sure of the extent of Moodie’s contact with the Natives but the problem with her introduction is that she was aware of their existence, yet chose to see them as not worth writing about. The erasure of Natives in Moodies text is a really clear example of the “vanishing Indian” theme in literature. Thanks for your comment!


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