Les Sauvages Américains

Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature

By Gordon M. Sayre

408 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4652-0
    Published: August 1997
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6434-0
    Published: November 2000

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Algonquian and Iroquois natives of the American Northeast were described in great detail by colonial explorers who ventured into the region in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Beginning with the writings of John Smith and Samuel de Champlain, Gordon Sayre analyzes French and English accounts of Native Americans to reveal the rhetorical codes by which their cultures were represented and the influence that these images of Indians had on colonial and modern American society. By emphasizing the work of Pierre Franáois-Xavier Charlevoix, Joseph-Franáois Lafitau, and Baron de Lahontan, among others, Sayre highlights the important contribution that French explorers and ethnographers made to colonial literature. Sayre's interdisciplinary approach draws on anthropology, cultural studies, and literary methodologies. He cautions against dismissing these colonial texts as purveyors of ethnocentric stereotypes, asserting that they offer insights into Native American cultures. Furthermore, early accounts of American Indians reveal Europeans' serious examination of their own customs and values: Sayre demonstrates how encounters with natives' wampum belts, tattoos, and pelt garments, for example, forced colonists to question the nature of money, writing, and clothing; and how the Indians' techniques of warfare and practice of adopting prisoners led to new concepts of cultural identity and inspired key themes in the European enlightenment and American individualism.

About the Author

Gordon M. Sayre is professor of English and folklore at the University of Oregon.
For more information about Gordon M. Sayre, visit the Author Page.


“A wide-ranging yet concise study of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century descriptions by colonial explorers of the indigenous North American Algonquin and Iroquois peoples and the rhetorical impact of these descriptions on Europe and the colonial Americas. . . . An important addition to any library.”--Religious Studies Review

“Makes a profound contribution to our understanding of New World natural history. . . . A valuable and intriguing study, whose emphasis on French travel writing is especially important. Sayre’s focus is sharp, his analysis keen.”Reviews in American History

“Importantly enriches our understanding of colonial texts and the manner in which such documents record cultural information.”--American Literature

“Gordon Sayre’s book is worthwhile reading for any scholar seeking to understand how Native Americans were represented in colonial literature and how these representations influenced European and American thought. A carefully researched and documented study. . . . Les Sauvages Americains is more than a good book about representations of Native Americans in colonial literature. It is a significant contribution to American literary history, one that asks us to rethink some of our most basic assumptions about how Europeans thought and wrote about Native Americans.”--Christianity and Literature

“A thought-provoking analysis of some previously little-considered aspects of early European-Amerindian relations. . . . His work still makes clear the influence of the past on aboriginal political and social issues of today.”--Olive Patricia Dickason, William and Mary Quarterly

“Widely researched, combining ethnohistory with literary methodology, and quoting original French texts at length with English translations immediately following, Les Sauvages Americains offers new approaches and breathes some new life into some familiar areas. . . . A useful contribution to the literature on how Europeans encountered, perceived, and constructed Indian people and of how Europeans themselves were subtly changed by the experience.”--New England Quarterly