Narcissa Whitman Critical Context - Essay

Jeanette Eaton

Critical Context

Published in 1941, before women and minorities were given much attention in historical works, Narcissa Whitman is a classic because it was ahead of its time in its realistic and sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans and of life on the frontier and because it showed a woman’s contributions to the United States. Most exploration tales prior to the 1960’s focus on a male protagonist, but Narcissa Whitman is clearly the character around which the text focuses. Although Whitman excels in the generally accepted roles for women of her time, she longed for more opportunities and more power.

Eaton, an author of books for children and young adults, wrote twenty-three books. Most of these texts were biographies of American heroines and heroes, such as Jeanne d’ Arc: The Warrior Saint (1931), Heroines of the Sky (1942), Trumpeter’s Tale: The Story of Louis Armstrong (1955), and her last book, America’s Own Mark Twain (1959), for which she won the Ohioana Book Award. Narcissa Whitman is a useful book for educating young readers about American frontier experiences. It is a catalyst for discussion about Manifest Destiny, assimilation, and cultural preservation. Because the viewpoint is predominantly white and does not reveal the final results of these conflicts, however, the book should be balanced by other accounts.