The Duality of Unca's Identity: The Use of the Idol in Colonial and Religious Subjugation
The Female American follows the life of Unca Winkfield, the product of a bi-racial marriage in eighteenth-century America. Unca’s hybridity creates tension within the novel as she seems to alternate between a predominantly Christian worldview and a pagan one. Throughout the first part of the novel, Unca displays Christian values, praying after she is abandoned on an island. However, as she spends more time there, she begins to act like a pagan, using an abandoned oracle to communicate with the natives. Most scholars believe that Unca changes her beliefs in order to utilize whichever heritage is most beneficial at the time. I argue, however, that she must enact both of these lineages at once because together they compose her individuality. Through Unca’s initial use of the island’s pagan statue, readers see how she employs both of her heritages simultaneously: she preaches Christianity by speaking through a pagan idol. Later, she utilizes the idol to scare the Europeans with whom she is actually trying to reconnect. In my analysis of these scenes, I argue that, while one side of Unca’s dual identity may possess control in certain environments, the other is always present. The subordinated worldview may recede but it cannot go away without being subjugated by a powerful outside force. When viewed in this light, Unca’s subjugation at the end of the novel can be understood as a function of a new colonial encounter that strips Unca of her individuality, placing her within the European domestic structure once more.