Lenski’s expressed purpose is “to present an authentic and sympathetic background of Seneca Indian life.” In order to achieve this goal, Lenski includes a tremendous amount of carefully chosen detail, both in her writing and in her illustrations. She is also very careful to blame overtly neither the white settlers who encroached upon the Native Americans’ hunting grounds nor the marauding warriors who tried to protect their homes and livelihoods, making the death of Jemison’s family seem like an unavoidable tragedy. The fact that Jemison does not learn of these deaths until much later plays an important part in her ability to accept the Senecas; although the child misses her family deeply, she does not feel the hatred that most probably would have occurred had she been aware of the murders. Lenski further avoids much discussion of the French and Indian Wars, which took place at this time. She merely reports that both the French and the English troops sought the help of the Iroquois nation, as the whites fought against one another for control of land that had once belonged to Native Americans.
Yet Lenski does allow sympathy for the demise of these tribes to permeate the book. She sees this period as the beginning of the end for the Native American way of life. Whites were immigrating in astounding numbers, spreading westward in unprecedented surges as they sought land for their growing families, and their influence upon Native Americans was...
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Indian Captive drew many favorable comments from educators, anthropologists, and other authorities, who praised the research reflected in both the writing and the illustrations. As a consequence, the book was named a Newbery Medal Honor Book in 1942. Although Lenski altered some of the facts in her fictional re-creation of Jemison’s capture and adoption by the Senecas, she “succeeded in reflecting the spirit of Indian life.” The excitement and romance of Jemison’s story are downplayed, so that the tale becomes a reminder of a culture that has nearly been lost. It is remarkable that Lenski wrote her book before the popular resurgence of interest in Native American history and that her sympathies are with the Senecas.
The editors suggest that Indian Captive is suitable for readers between the ages of ten and fifteen. Many modern children, however, are more sophisticated than those of the 1940’s, and they would probably find both the level of vocabulary and the censored story rather simplistic. Therefore, a lower age group may be recommended as a suitable audience for Lenski’s biography.