Writing for different audiences requires using of appropriate techniques. The text on the problem of innocent figures in history differs from the paper about the “scholarship boy”. The writers use different strategies and genres to make their statements. While Nelson Limerick observes various cases to prove that the notion of innocence should not be automatically acquired by many Americans, Rodrigues makes his point though an autobiographic narrative telling a story of his studies calling himself a “scholarship boy”. The evidence brought by the authors is supported by their personal positions and used with a purpose to convince readers’ in their opinions. Although both are divided in little sections, Nelson-Limerick’s paper is more dynamic and aimed to convince other scholars in blunders of historical perception of events, while Rodriguez shows no persuasion but mere sharing with others. The second text is not limited to academic usage and easier to read for a wider group of people despite it can be fully understood exclusively by scholars like him.
Calling America the “empire” of innocent victims, Nelson-Limerick claims that is it a wrong approach to the past and a result of intersections between history and anthropology. She shows how the notions of “villain” or “victim” form and twist historical heritage and stay in human’s memory for a prolonged time. The question who takes the role of an innocent hero in many parts of American history is at the core of the essay. The author argues that the desire to improve the situation of the West is not that innocent as it seems to be. The author reflects on the innocence of these intentions and brings an example of a few case studies which are often victimized in history. I agree with this statement and argue that victimization of history is a popular phenomenon used by missionaries, war witnesses, etc., but their innocence is often a result of changing accents of an original story. Therefore historians’ job is to analyze sources and criticize the information which cannot be proved instead of telling stories of heroic figures with noble motives.
Nelson Limerick also analyzes the turns of history saying that yesterday’s villains can easily become today’s victims”. Pointing to the John Wesley Hardin’s case the author shows how killing can be done and interpreted as an innocent act. The boy who killed a black skinned bully believed he did a right thing by depriving the last one of life. The narrator goes on questioning the problem of interpreting innocence in a story of the white woman, named Narcissa, who was murdered by Indians. In this case the authors underlines that the lady went to “rescue the Indians” without any Christian background. The Whitman family went to work in Oregon where most of Narcissa Whitman’s work was to cook and take care of adopted children. The missionaries stayed there for eleven years until Cayuse Indians rose in rebellion and killed some of them including Narcissa and her husband. This murder made Narcissa almost a martyr in the eyes of white American population, but Nelson debates its innocence.
It is true that Americans who went westward with a mission to give equal opportunities to the Indians are usually treated as pioneers and religious missionaries while the personal interest in the acquisition of property is hidden behind their good motives. In my opinion one should never forget that this story has two sides, i.e. there were victims between the explorers but the locals suffered from the intervention too. These issues create mutual misunderstanding and a historians’ task is to take both sides into account. I strongly believe that Narcisa Prentiss Whitman did not have evil intentions therefore her death can be interpreted as a murder, but the problems the mission caused for the local population give a ground to call her one of the invaders and treat as an enemy. Based on these thought I want to argue that a phenomenon of “innocent victims” needs to be analyzed from different perspectives. The question investigated in this study is whether Narcissa Whitman is an innocent victim of brutality and ingratitude. Analyzing possible reasons what possessed the Cayuses for such an act the author brings readers’ attention to the problem of multiple points of view. There are many elements in this story ponder upon. The author reminds many known historical twists and the false information about Indians of Oregon begging for Christianity. In other words, the act of murder was provoked and would have never happened if the missionaries had not appeared on the Cayuses’ territory. She states that “white Americans went west convinced that their purposes were as commonplace as they were innocent” which not so much true. The sense of victimization, in my opinion, overcame other facts in this situation and was applied to Christian civilizers who intruded Indian territories not only for high ideas. Finally, the author claims, “real Westerners, contrary to the old divisions between good guys and bad guys, combined the roles of victim and villain”. In my opinion, both sides of a conflict have to be responsible and share the fault. I am convinced that concept of innocent victims is a part of mythmaking and therefore should not be included into historical narrative.
Quite contrasting to the first text, a second reading offers a deep and personal analysis of the making-a-scholar-process. The author, Mr. Rodriguez, tells a part of his biographical story introducing himself as a man whose life is all about studying. The first inner conflict the future writer and academic strongly felt was the difference and opposition between school and home. He notices little details that made school his preference and led away from his family. The feeling of alienation to his parents and distant attitude that grew between him and other members of his family became very strong when he got interested in books. In this case I want to argue that a gap between a student and his parents grows not only because of his/her intensive studies but also of belonging to different generations. The author, it seems, never consulted any of his scholarly colleagues maybe they felt something similar in their childhood. I do not think that the author has a right to blame his parents for not understanding his academic desires and sharing his interests to books.
A good point though is made that getting education is not equal to a personal progress. Rodrigues claims that education is not an inevitable or natural step in growing up. I agree with this position as often education comes and goes out of students’ heads without any positive consequences. The moment of losing the balance between school and home was strongly experienced by the author with a notice how education was changing his attitude to life and others. His advisers in life were rather his teachers that parents. But, the author notes, the parents also played a role and were present in his success story, as they made it possible. They were always behind, he says, which is ironical taking in consideration his relationships with the parents. In the young age he was totally caught by “important books” and could not understand his parents’ attitude toward the act of reading. He adds that for them “reading was something done out of necessity and as quickly as possible”. Also, he adds, their reading was very basic as it consisted solely of work manuals, prayer books, newspapers and recipes. Rodrigues reflects on the power of a book, which was totally hidden from his relatives. The comment he could hardly stand was about seeing nothing in books and wondering why their son is so involved in reading, was haunting him through his student’s life. The author calls himself the “scholarship boy” which is a good definition for a dedicated student who reads every book from the first till the final page and finds a big pleasure in it. The feeling of achievement was overwhelming when pleasing him when he’d finish another sick book. “I’d run my fingers along the edge of the pages and marvel at the breadth of my achievement”. His self-confidence and assurance grew out of the hundreds of read books.
In my opinion, the author creates a prototype of a successful and devoted student. His argument is that a boy or girl who gets very involved in his/her studies risks to turn into a “scholarship boy” which might cause problems with his/her parents and influence the whole life. He shows a certain mechanism that works here: the parents are proud of their son, some businessmen support a clever kid with scholarship coverage, teachers get satisfaction seeing his excellent tests and hearing his full answers, etc. Many people seem happy for him, Rodrigues concludes.
- Richard Rodrigues, “The achievement of desire”, Chapter 2 of the book “Hunger of Memory, the education of Richard Rodrigues”. Boston, 1982.
- Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Empire of innocence”, an essay (n.d.).