Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times. is a novel by the nineteenth century American author and human rights campaigner Lydia Maria Child. Her first novel, published in 1824 under the pseudonym "An American," was inspired by John G. Palfrey's article in the North American Review. It is set during the late 1620s and 1630s. Among other themes, it relates the marriage of a recently immigrated white American woman, Mary Conant, to the eponymous Native American and her attempt to raise their son in white society.
The subject of miscegenation being taboo, the book initially fared poorly. An early review in the North American Review called the story "unnatural" and "revolting to every feeling of delicacy". However, before too long (and partly due to Child's intervention in Boston literary circles), many prominent Bostonians celebrated the novel. Child was later active as an abolitionist, feminist and supporter of Native Americans.
Hobomok is a work of historical fiction set in colonial New England. The events of the novel take place between 1629-1632 and concern the settlement of Plymouth and Salem, Massachusetts, by British-born Puritans, who are seeking religious freedom in the New World. The novel’s protagonist is a teenage girl named Mary Conant, who, forbidden by her father to marry a non-Puritan white man, leaves white society for Native American society. She marries Hobomok, an indigenous man who has been an ally to her family. The novel ends when Mary’s white lover, believed to be dead, returns to the colony. Hobomok dissolves his marriage to Mary, enabling her to marry Charles and to be reintegrated into white colonial society.
Mary Conant is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Conant and the novel’s protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, she appears obedient and angelic, the ideal daughter. As time moves on, Mary develops her sense of self and breaks from the mold of her Puritan community. Even though Mr. Conant forbids her relationship with Charles Brown, Mary ignores him and pursues Brown. Mary’s strong-willed character and rebellious attitude manifest themselves in all aspects of her life. Towards the end of the novel, she marries Hobomok and has a child.
Mr. Conant is Mary’s father and an authority in the Puritan Church. Mr. Conant is a traditionalist and doesn’t allow Mary to marry Charles Brown because of their religious differences. Mr. Conant is the quintessential Puritan man: strict, stoic and repressive.
Mrs. Conant is married to Mr. Conant and the mother of Mary. She is religious like her husband and frequently described as gentle and weak. She is obedient to her husband but wants the best for her daughter Mary. After she gets sick, on her deathbed, she tells her husband to let Mary marry Charles.
Charles Hobomok Conant (child) is the child of Hobomok and Mary Conant. After Hobomok’s departure, he is raised by Mary and Charles in white society.
Sally Oldham Collier is the daughter of Mr. Oldham and best friend of Mary Conant. Sally is a flirty and mischievous personality who attracts many suitors. She works on her father’s farm and acts as a nurse to the Salem colony. She is described as an upbeat personality with rosy skin, blue eyes and a plump figure. She ultimately marries John Collier, despite a marriage proposal from a different man named James Hopkins. Sally is known for presenting controversial opinions and for being assertive, as well as for being a free spirit who is apprehensive of the structure that living amongst a colony may bring to her life. Sally is against the marriage of Mary and Hobomok, but eventually comes to accept it, stating that he is “the best Indian I ever knew,” and that he now “seems almost like an Englishman” (172). Sally does not support Native Americans, rather she supports the idea of the “noble savage” and the westernization of native people.
Mr. Oldham is the father of Sally Oldham and family friend of Mr. Conant. He retains quite an outgoing nature, frequently questioning the current religious practices. This nature is also reflected through his daughter, Sally, who lives freely and speaks openly without the fear of consequences. Mr. Oldham is first introduced when he offers Mr. Conant some tobacco from his farm. He serves the purpose of progressing the debates with many of the main characters about the growing religious restrictions placed by the church.
Hobomok is referenced throughout the story as the “savage” who helps the Puritans travel from Salem to Plymouth, acting as a literal and figurative connection between civilization and the natural world. He is part of a Massachusetts tribe, and acts as a loyal friend to the Salem settlers. He is described as “poetic” and “figurative” with his language, and “unwarped by the artifices of civilized life,” which paints him as pure and untouched (151). He is mainly featured in the story as pursuing Mary Conant, eventually marrying her and having a child who is named Charles Hobomok Conant.
Chapter 1. The inhabitants of Naumkeak (Salem) greet new arrivals to the colony from England. After dark, Mary makes her way into the woods and performs a ceremonial love ritual to reveal her true love . While she expects Charles Brown to appear, it is the indigenous Hobomok who materializes.
Chapter 2. The people of the colony—which is now named Salem—gather to fulfill an order from the London Company when Hobomok brings news that a conflict has broken out between the indigenous people and the white settlers. Thomas Graves tries to flirt with Sally Oldham, to little success. Mary and Sally talk together of Hobomok, Charles, and Thomas.
Chapter 3. Mr. Collier, Sally and her parents discuss religion. Mr. Collier brings a marriage proposal from James Hopkins to Sally, but she tells him she hates Hopkins and prefers to be with Collier instead. Collier shares Sally’s sentiment and her parents approve the match.
Chapter 4. Hobomok and Corbitant dispute the Natives’ handling of the white settlers. Hobomok approaches them with friendly openness; Corbitant is aggressive towards them, fighting their establishment. The two men get into an intense physical confrontation over this. Hobomok almost kills Corbitant.
Chapter 5. Mary is saddened by her mother's drastically decaying health and finds comfort in her friend Hobomok. Mr. Conant, Mrs. Conant, and Mary, along with Mr. Oldham, Mr. Graves, Hobomok, and the governor gather to talk about an alliance between two tribes. Hobomok tells the governor about a possible threat from Corbitant, which happens, and he stays to guard Mary and her mother.
Chapter 6. The ambush of the Conant family is successfully stopped by a coalition of indigenous and white men. Charles Brown visits Mary, despite her father's orders to keep him away. Charles Brown tells Mary that they will move back to England together, but Mary refuses to leave her dying mother alone in the colony.
Chapter 7. Collier travels back to Plymouth to deliver the unfortunate news of Sally declining James Hopkins’s marriage proposal. Adding insult to injury, Collier unwillingly admits to Hopkins that Sally had in fact chosen him instead. This infuriates Hopkins, so he brings Collier to trial in front of the church.The church deems that Hopkins is not guilty, yet they still request a written statement of the account from Sally. Sally is illiterate, so Mary writes the formal statement for her. Sally claims full responsibility for her actions. Mr. Oldham, Sally’s father, attaches an additional note speaking to his discomfort with the growing restrictions placed by the church. Collier is cleared, and Sally is reprimanded for being ‘unladylike.’
Chapter 9. Higginson is chosen to be the church preacher. In his inaugural sermon, he expresses his concerns that sin is seeping into the Puritan community, all while gesturing to Brown and his fellow non-conformists. Mary is still in love with Brown.
Chapter 10. A trial is held by Governor Endicott and the church elders to try and prove that Brown’s Episcopalian religion is disrupting the community. Brown decides to flee and asks Mary to join him, who refuses on account of her dying mother. Mary asks Brown to deliver a letter to her grandfather in England. Mr. Conant is furious when he finds Brown in his house, so Brown says his goodbyes to Mary and she cries herself to sleep.
Chapter 11. Mary’s closest friends, Charles Brown and Sally Oldham, leave Salem, Brown for England, Sally for Plymouth.
Chapter 12. In the monotonous winter following Brown’s departure, Hobomok pays frequent visits to Mary. While his love for Mary—“the child of good spirit”—intensifies, Mary takes a liking to Hobomok’s Native American tales. Later, Mary, with Mr. Conant’s permission, watches the midnight hunt led by Hobomok, whose warrior side is revealed.
Chapter 13. Mary passes the spring with much weariness of her lonely state; luckily, in June, she is joined by Mr. Isaac Johnson and his wife Lady Arabella, another prominent English family who comes to build the New World. The Conants warmly welcome the Johnsons to a dinner, at which they cheerfully look forward to the future.
Chapter 14. Mary receives a package from Charles Brown, which contains a mini self-portrait (a likeness). In his letter, Brown explains that he is going to the East Indies to seek fortune but he will return to New England the following year, when he hopes to be reunited with Mary.
Chapter 15. On her deathbed, Mrs. Conant asks her husband to allow the marriage between Mary and Charles. He agrees; she dies. Lady Arabella, who was in good health when she arrived in the colony, suddenly dies. Soon after, her husband dies of sorrow. The preacher Mr. Higginson dies as well.
Chapter 16. Mary witnesses an apparition of “a vessel” in the clouds and interprets it as a bad omen toward Charles's return. The next week Hobomok comes to Salem with letters for Mr. Conant and Governor Endicott. The letters contain information that Charles Brown is dead. Mary seeks confirmation from Endicott, who tells her that it is true. He advises her to accept Brown’s death as the will of God. Mary returns home to her father, who attempts to console her but is unsuccessful. She travels to Mrs. Willet’s house.
Chapter 17. Mary’s pain from Brown’s supposed death causes a descent into madness. She leaves Mrs. Willet’s because it reminds her of Brown. Out of heartbreak, she travels to her mother’s (Mrs. Conant) grave and meets Hobomok. In the heat of the moment, she decides to marry Hobomok. After the initial decision, she starts to regret her choice. However, her father throws a prayer book given to her by Brown into the fire, and this fixes her decision. Mary travels with Hobomok to his Plymouth home and they get married in a Native American ceremony.
Chapter 18. Mary goes missing from the colony. The settlers, including her father, believe she has drowned herself out of grief at Brown’s death. Mary had, in fact, married Hobomok and joined his tribe. News of Mary’s transgressive marriage spreads to the white settlers. Mr. Conant is relieved that she is alive but finds it more torturous to know that she is married to a non-white, non-Puritan man.
Chapter 19. Mary slowly comes to love Hobomok. She is abandoned by all of her friends except Sally, who makes regular visits. Mary gives birth to Charles Hobomok Conant. Hobomok goes out to hunt and finds Charles Brown, who was not in fact killed but, rather, captured during his sea voyage. Hobomok debates whether to kill him and decides not to. Hobomok states that Mary loved Charles first and that he should dissolve his marriage and leave his tribe permanently for the West.
Chapter 20. Charles Brown was in a shipwreck and taken prisoner for 3 years. Hobomok believes Mary doesn’t love him and decides to get divorced in a traditional indigenous way. Hobomok runs away. Mary and Charles get married and they move next to Mary’s father, Mr. Conant.
Gender expectations: Key to the central conflict of Hobomok is the idea of Mary’s identity as a woman. In the colony, she is expected to play the role of a secondary subject to the men in her life. Yet, she disrupts this expectation by taking an active part in her destiny. She pursues Hobomok, a native, and pays no mind to the roles that her family and Church expect her to fulfill. She becomes wild and powerful, like the untamed North American land, validating the fear held by male authority figures that women would be uncontrollable in the New World.
Puritan repression: A key theme throughout Hobomok is the effect of Puritanism in Salem. The novel suggests that the unstable nature of early American colonies was due, in part, to social repression and disparate distribution of power. This idea is voiced by Mr. Oldham in a letter to Church elders. The letter serves as a warning toward the church that too much repression will result in rebellion. Oldham uses the metaphor that the church is “running its horses so hard, and drawing the reins so tight, that they might raise up and caste their riders into the mud.” The novel suggests that Mary’s relationship with Hobomok constitutes one such rebellion.
Race relations: The character Homobok reflects Child’s understanding of white-Native American relationship. Child’s depiction of Hobomok, and Native Americans in general, is progressive only to the extent of the early 19th century context. The story of an interracial marriage between a supposedly devoted Puritan and a Native American was truly novel at the time, even to a degree that Child felt the need to publish it anonymously under a pretense that the novel was authored by a man. However, the character Hobomok remains in the category of the “noble savage”: a loyal ally to the white settlers who is considerably westernized and, in the 19th century context, civilized. Readers are constantly reminded of the racial status of Native Americans by the consistent use of word “savage” as Child refers to Hobomok and as Homobok refers to himself by third person pronouns in conversations. However, Child does not indulge the U.S. policies toward Native Americans at the time. In fact, Child imagines a collaborative and inter-cultural relationship between the white settlers and Native Americans through the problematic but also harmonious marriage of Hobomok and Mary.
- "Lydia Maria Child, Letters of Lydia Maria Child, Introduction". perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-18.
- Bruce Mills, "Introduction," in Letters from New-York, ed. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1998, p. xi. ISBN 978-0-8203-2077-9
- The North American Review, (1825-07-01), pages 78-104. The North American Review. 1825-07-01.
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