Historically, the development of early American culture was a very interesting point for researches but the arrival of Europeans to the continent not simply change socio-economic and political life of the native tribes but also changed their culture dramatically to the extent that there remained little reminders about traditional native American culture, which is basically succumbed to the impact of invaders’ cultures. In fact the interaction of the cultures of colonizers and traditional Indian culture is in the focus of attention of James Axtell in his book “The Invasion Within: The Cultural Origins of North America”.
In his book, the author basically concentrates on the north-eastern region of North America where the culture of the local population, French and English cultures came into clashes. In such a situation, it is really interesting to analyze Axtell’s views on the interaction of the culture of invaders and that of Indians. It is important to underline that he attempts to analyze the cultural changes and interactions in socio-economic and political context but still culture remains at a higher level of the author’s discussion and is not lost in a variety of arguments concerning non-cultural aspects that shape North American communities of that epoch.
In fact, James Axtell clearly realizes that the arrival of Europeans resulted in their numerous attempts to expand their culture into other peoples inhabiting the continent. At the same time, the author underlines that the strategies used by the invaders in their cultural expansion were different and so were the effects of their cultural policies. In this respect, it is worthy to note that James Axtell is very critical, if not to say skeptical about English culture and its power. For instance, he hardly agrees with the supporters of the overwhelming power of English culture, especially at the point that the attempts of English invaders to ‘civilize’ Indians and convert them into English religion, culture, lifestyle, etc. which James Axtell considers to be absolutely inefficient or at least of low efficiency. Obviously, he stands on the ground that violence is not the best way of conversion of conquered people in new lifestyle and culture. In stark contrast, he emphasizes that such a policy of violent conversion of Indians in English religion and culture engendered strong opposition and total rejection from the part of Indians. Not surprisingly that James Axtell assesses English impact on the cultural development of northeastern region of North America as the weakest one.
In such a situation, the achievements of French culture and their cultural policy seem to be more impressive since they turned to be more successful than those of English invaders. To put it more precisely, James Axtell indicates at a significant difference of French cultural policy compared to English one. For instance, the author emphasize that the activities of French Jesuits were particularly efficient due to the wide use of adaptive approach. In such a way, he argues that French invaders rather preferred non-violent measures of cultural colonization than violent conversion of conquered people which was so popular among English invaders.
On analyzing the French cultural policy in relation to the local population, James Axtell argues that unlike English invaders, French attempted to adapt native Americans to their culture that made the integration of Indians into French culture more natural. At the same time, French themselves readily accepted certain habits and cultural traditions of Indians. As a result, such a policy led to the mutual enrichment of both cultures rather than a blindfold integration of one culture into another by means of total rejection of values of Indian culture as totally erroneous and unacceptable for ‘civilized’ people.
Eventually, the author of the book arrives to a bit paradoxical conclusion, which, though, sounds quite natural in the context of the whole book. In fact, what James Axtell estimates is actually the idea that Indian culture and its impact was probably the strongest in the region of North America he analyzes in his work. Moreover, the cultural impact of the native population of North America was so significant that it could be treated as a counter invasion, i.e. in response to socio-economic and political oppression Indians kept developing their culture and remained faithful to their traditional beliefs and values. In order to prove his position James Axtell draws a number of examples of a successful integration of some white people captured by Indians into the local way of life. According to the author, one of the basic reasons for such a success of cultural expansion of Indian tribes is the fact that they as well as their culture were close to nature and among the three main cultures discussed within the book, Indian one was the closest to nature that made integration of French and English to their culture less difficult and problematic.
In general, the book seems to be quite persuasive and interesting to read. In this respect, the authors writing style is quite helpful the book is written in quite a simple language and provides a lot of examples based on historical facts that makes the author’s position particularly trustworthy. At the same time, the scientific side of the book practically remains untouched by simplifications and is worthy to note. Nonetheless, it seems as if naturalistic approach dominates in the author’s arguments. Obviously, he is quite logical in his judgments but still the variety of factors should be taken into consideration and historically English culture eventually turned to be the strongest one while Indian one had managed to integrate no but few people compared to the mass scale of conversion of native people of America in English culture and lifestyle.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that James Axtell provides a very interesting and involving research which is well organized and logically structured but his conclusions still sounds a bit arguable and by his book the discussion, concerning the cultural interactions or cultural invasion within North America, seems to remain open for new ideas than totally persuading in righteousness of the author of “The Invasion Within: The Cultural Origins of North America”.
Axtell, James. The Invasion Within: The Cultural Origins of North America. New York: Routledge, 1999.
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