Hope Leslie

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Hope Leslie
Author Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Original title Early Times in Massachusetts
Language English
Publication date

Hope Leslie or Early Times in the Massachusetts is a novel written by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. The book is considered significant because of its strong feminist overtones and ideas of equity and fairness toward Native Americans, both of which were rare at the time the book was written, in 1827. The book is a historical romance, set mostly in 1643. A number of historical figures appear, including Puritan leader John Winthrop, Puritan heretic Samuel Gorton, and the Pequot Indian Mononotto.

Plot summary[edit]

Volume 1 The story starts with William Fletcher, a young man who is in love with a distant relative, Alice. Her father has forbidden her marriage to Fletcher on account of religious difference. After he thwarts Alice's attempt to run away with Fletcher to North America, Alice's father forces her to marry Charles Leslie instead. In despair, Fletcher decides to leave England and relocate to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the Bay colony, Fletcher marries an orphan girl named Martha although he is still in love with Alice. He founds a household several miles out of town, and has children; Everell, and two others. He receives word that Charles and Alice Leslie have both died, and that their children, which will be renamed Faith and Hope, will be coming to live with the Fletchers.

To address the increase in household work that the new children will bring, they family is supplied with two young Native Americans as servants. They are Magawisca and Oneco, the children of one of the Pequod chiefs, Mononotto. They have been displaced due to the Pequod War of the previous war, in which the Pequod settlement was attacked and burned by the white settlers. Most of the household is suspicious of Magawisca, especially since she occasionally talks to Nelema, an old native woman living nearby. Everell, however, always maintains that she is trustworthy and only has the family's best interests at heart.

Everell maintains his Faith in Magawisca when he and Digby, the faithful family servant, are keeping watch at night; they see Magawisca slip out of her bedroom and go to speak with Nelema. At this point, William Fletcher has gone to the coast to conduct business; he has sent Faith Leslie to live with the family, but has kept Hope Leslie with him because she reminds him of his former love Alice. Magawisca is conflicted, unsure whether she ought to tell Everell that her father is preparing a surprise raid on the household to reclaim his children; she feels a strong love for the family which has treated her with kindness, but ultimately says nothing as she is unwilling to betray her father. Digby goes away on an errand that Mrs. Fletcher insists on, and so Everell is left to defend the house in the event of an attack.

The Native Americans do attack, and Everell is able to wound one, but unable to stop the ensuing bloodbath. Mrs. Fletcher and the young children are killed, and Mononotto captures Everell and Hope Leslie, and reclaims his children Magawisca and Oneco.

Mr. Fletcher returns with Hope Leslie to his home later from the coast several hours after the fight only to find his entire family dead or missing; he mourns privately for a few days, and then begins to act normally.

Meanwhile, the Native American group are attempting to reach their allies before they are caught by the settlers in pursuit. There are several close calls, but they eventually escape and reach the settlement. Magawisca attempts to help Everell escape, since she does not agree with her father's capture of the two white children, but she is unable to do so.

The natives prepare Everell for sacrifice; Mononotto is thrilled at the brave spirit with which he fought the invasion at the Fletcher home, and believes that he is a fitting sacrifice to avenge the death of his own son in the Pequod War, who was interrogated by white settlers before being killed in cold blood. Magawisca attempts to aid him, but is sent to an old woman's domicile and kept there by a stationed guard as the night wears on and the time for the sacrifice draws nigh. She is able to put the guard to sleep using an herbal sleeping tea that the old woman has in her hut, and escapes to help Everell. Everell, meanwhile, has been encircled by natives at a large rock. A moonbeam strikes his face; the natives interpret this as a sign that the sacrifice has been accepted and exult in the moment. Everell is resigned to his fate and bows his head to be killed. As the final blow is about to be struck, Magawisca leaps from the large rock which she has secretly scaled into the path of the blade. Mononotto, instead of killing Everell, cuts off his daughter's arm. In the ensuing shock of the natives, Magawisca and Everell embrace, and Everell escapes the circle and flees the encampment.

Volume 2

Jennet calls it witchcraft and Nelema is made to stand trial. Hope frees Nelema from jail and Nelema promises to send her sister Faith to her.

Hope is sent to live with the Winthrops in Boston for a while.

Everyone else agrees to leave the island and Hope goes out to meet her sister on the shore. Hope embraces Faith and tries to talk to her only to realize that Faith no longer speaks English. Magawisca must interpret for them. Hope tries to get her to come home with her, but to no avail. As they are meeting, a trap is sprung upon them by Sir Philip. Magawisca and Faith are taken by English soldiers. Magawisca is imprisoned. Hope is taken captive by Oneco and meets up with Mononotto.

Mononotto is struck by lightning as Oneco is trying to get away. He stops to take care of his father and while he does so, Hope escapes, but then runs into a group of sailors who chase her. Esther has realized that Everell and Hope love each other and she decides to return to England for a few years and remain unmarried. As if to right the original wrong of separating William Fletcher from Alice, their children, Everell Fletcher and Hope Leslie, are finally united.


’’Hope Leslie’’ surfaces amidst a time of conflict, rivalry, and hatred; however, the tale embodies a thematic scheme of love, honor, and trust despite the aura of negativity. The story also positively promotes the rights of women in a time when women had no rights by giving them the ability to form and state opinions without fear of unjust criticism. An example of this happens when Mononotto says "when women put down their womanish thoughts and counsel like men, they should be obeyed" (1019, Norton Anthology). Normally, fiction written during this time did not have the fairytale ending which makes this story a pleasant, welcome surprise in that the ending is satisfying to readers because of the element of the unexpected. Within the realm of the unexpected, the characters are developed to represent entire nations and the beliefs of these nations despite the fact that they will all not portray the characteristics set as the "norm." For example, the first half [Magiwisca’s History of the Pequod War] reveals Digby as the Puritan population as a whole, whereas Everell can be seen as part of the outcast population. Digby, or most of the Puritans, showed no compassion towards the Native Americans solely based on the color of their skin, thus weaving the story within the story to show the problematic discrimination present during the time but with a satisfying "twist." ’’Hope Leslie’’ is definitely a story that can be seen as containing a “big picture” which revealed the author's ability to both perceive and correct an uncomfortable situation yet allow the reader to realize that the situation was a part of the lifestyles of the people of this time.

The second half [Magawisca's Farewell] of the story actually simplifies the entire evolution of the Puritan/Native-American conflict into perspective. The author, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, really presents the reader with an eye-opening experience through Magawisca's recollection of the what happened to Everell revealing that love has the potential to conquer hatred despite the odds being stacked against it in all situations. The contradictory interactions between the two groups caused so much mayhem that it seemed that the situation was impossible; however, ’’Hope Leslie’’ is a story of reform and divulges the true power of friendship and progressive morality. ’’Hope Leslie’’ instills that "love is blind" and what it means to abide by the Golden Rule of loving one's neighbor as himself..

The willingness of Hope, Digby, and Everell to risk their own acceptance into the Puritan community by taking part in the rescue of Magiwisca, is an honorable act of its own. But, given the diction used by Sedgwick, "Everell and Hope remained immoveable, gazing on the little boat till it faded in the dim distance; for a few moments, every feeling for themselves was lost in grief of parting for ever from the admirable being [Magiwisca], who seemed to her enthusiastic young friends, one of the noblest of the works of God--a bright witness to the beauty, the independence, and the immortality of virtue,"[1] it is obvious that there is a saintliness bond between Everell, Digby, and Hope towards Magiwisca that contradicts the hatred they had once been taught to practice. The ultimate theme of this story is independence. Each character portrayed the gain of independence in his/her own way. The most obvious is Magiwisca's ability to escape and literally sail away towards her freedom. Hope, Everell, and Digby all gained independence by ultimately escaping from the ways of their people. They were all irrevocably given the chance to "escape" from their ideals and gain the knowledge to define themselves at their own discretion, thus each represented the author's opinion of how each nation should have acted under the same set of circumstances even though they did not.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols[edit]

There is an obvious overall theme of "Love conquers all". This is shown throughout many trials in the story and between many different people. There is first the love of William Fletcher and Alice. In the end, their love comes back around to their children, Everell and Hope. Also, there is the marriage of Faith and Oneco. They constantly have to protect their marriage by convincing people it was for love, that even their religious and racial backgrounds couldn't keep them apart. Then there is the love between Hope Leslie and Magawisca. This love is a beautiful friendship and you see this displayed mostly when Magawisca takes a huge risk to come and tell Hope about her sister's marriage and how Faith has changed. Magawisca is thrown into prison for this but once again displaying their love, Hope risks everything to set her free.

Aside from the obvious theme, there is another underlying theme that centers around the character of Hope Leslie herself. She represents the pioneer woman of the 17th Century. The theme that she represents is "fighting for what she believes in". Obviously, there would be no story if Hope Leslie had not been such a protector and confidant for the Native American's she came into contact with. She risked her life for Magawisca and also became friends with Rosa/Roslin and protected Nelema's reputation.

Motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story.[2][better source needed] The motif of Hope Leslie goes hand in hand with the theme of the story. The recurring symbolism in Hope Leslie overall is love. There are acts of love between lovers, friends, and family within this story. There is the action of Magawisca sacrificing herself for Everell and getting her arm cut off. Magawisca also takes a risk when she is communicating with Hope Leslie when she is not supposed to be. Then there is the sacrifice of Hope Leslie to break Magawisca out of jail. The plan she uses also calls for the risk of Everell and Digby and their possible banishment from their lives and community if they are caught.

The smallest symbol in the story but perhaps the most significant in retrospect has got to be when Mr. Samuel Gorton comes in.[3][better source needed] He is known as a Puritan Heretic. As soon as he is mentioned in the plot then the entire story begins to unravel. This is when all of the major sacrifices for love begin to happen, when Magawisca and Hope Leslie meet up, when Sir Philip Gardiner is revealed as corrupt, when Rosa warns Hope and when everyone risks their lives for one another.

Race Relations[edit]

Catherine Maria Sedgwick's "Hope Leslie" uses personal information and the narrator's perspective to depict national American history. The story emphasizes dynamic changes in relations between Native Americans and Puritan settlers by combining the personal tales with the issue of American race relations. "Hope Leslie" illustrates Native American relations with settlers through stories about romances, and therefore becomes both a historical and sentimental novel. Using both characters' personal stories mixed with narrative viewpoints, the novel offers a mostly sympathetic view of the plight of Native American displacement and removal. However, this sympathy does not include the integration and cooperation between Indians and the settlers. Even within the context of sentimental fiction, the novel's romantic storyline emphasize integration was still considered to be unachievable in the 1820s due to significant differences in race and culture. Native American heritage and culture serve as the basis for much of "Hope Leslie". By using historical reference from a Native American perspective, the novel paints a very sympathetic view towards Indian culture. In many instances the narrator implies that English settlers committed crimes against the Native Americans, and portrays the religious teachings of the Puritans to be hypocritical with regards to their practice and application.In this regard, the novel is very critical of the history of America, while showing its foundation consisted of trying to destroy the Indian tribes. The novel uses Magawisca's very personal and traumatic story as an example of the general mistreatment of Native Americans by the English settlers. The romantic storyline between Everell and Magawisca reinforces the belief that there can be no integration between the English settlers and Native Americans. While the novel does show Oneco and Faith's relationship as loving and nurturing, this is clearly an excetpion rather than the norm, and the romance is never developed or fully explored by the narrator. The reaction from Hope shows that this interracial relationship was seen to be a violation of the cultural norm, especially since Hope is shown to be sympathetic to Native Americans as well as very open-minded for her time. While "Hope Leslie" shows that there may be some possibility for interracial relations to develop, there is still a huge divide between whites and natives, both racially and culturally, as interracial romances were still considered to be taboo. While the novel does show Native Americans in a favorable light, "Hope Leslie" clearly defines the boundaries between Puritans and Pequods through its romantic storylines. With the union of Hope and Everell, it is evident that "Hope Leslie" adopts a much more progressive stance towards the advancement of American society.

Captivity Narrative[edit]

Even though the Indians and the Puritans enjoyed many years of peace, fights over land rights between the whites and the Indians and among different groups of settlers became more common by the 1670s. These disputes were made worse by the deaths of John Bradford and Chief Massasoit. When the settlers captured the Wampanoag chief, Wamsutta, in order to make him give up more land, the chief fell ill and died while in captivity. Although Wamsutta's brother, the new chief Metacom (Philip), agreed to the demands, fighting broke out after the Indians were accused of murdering a converted Indian, John Sassamon. American Literature includes the Indian captivity narrative. In these stories, women are usually kidnapped and held captive by American Indians. The women who are taken captive are white women and of European descent. These captivity narratives help define what a "proper woman" should be and do. Women in these narratives are not treated as women "should" be—they often see the violent deaths of husbands, brothers and children. The women are unable to fill "normal" women's roles, are unable to protect their own children, are unable to dress neatly and cleanly or in the "proper" garments, and are unable to restrict their sexual activity to marriage to the "appropriate" kind of man. They are forced into roles that are not common for women, including violence in their own defense or that of children, physical challenges such as long journeys by foot and manipulation of their captors. The fact that they write stories about their lives is stepping outside "normal" women's behavior! The captivity stories used stereotypes of Indians and settlers, and were part of the ongoing conflict between these groups as the settlers moved westward. In a society in which men are expected to be the protectors of women, the kidnapping of women is viewed as a challenge to the males in the society. The stories serve as a call for retaliation and caution in dealing with these "dangerous" natives. Sometimes the narratives also challenge the racial stereotypes. By depicting the captors as individuals, and as people who also face troubles and challenges, the captors are also made more human. In either case, the Indian captive narratives serve a directly political purpose, and can be seen as a kind of political propaganda.

Role of Puritan Women[edit]

During the era of an earlier modern English society, Puritan women were not seen in its entirety as equal to men. They were often referred to as “powerless and unheard”. In male written literature of this period, women lacked the due credit that they should have received. This theme is so evident in many stories of this time period including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil. It is said here, that he often references to women as “my sweet pretty mistress”, “an old woman”, “the most innocent girl”, “a superstitious old woman”, “the bride”, and “good women gossiping”. The women were most importantly considered the back bone of the family. They were seen to only be knowledgeable in the areas of the “home life” in dealings with the family and children. Women were taught from almost birth how to cook, how to mend clothes, how to clean, and last but certainly not least how to be a wife to a man at a very young age. The author Catharine Sedgwick openly challenges the role of women in Hope Leslie based on her expressed ways of writing of how the woman should be equally treated.

Sources: Anderson B.S. and J.P. Zinsser. A History of Their Own: Women in Europe From Pre-History To The Present: Volume II. Harper Perennial, New York, 1989.

Religious Tolerance[edit]

Characterizing Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie as a romantic novel is accurate as far as it goes, but it reflects the author's views of the role of religion in the New England of two hundred years before as intolerant and constricting. In the beginning of the novel, in England, the character William Fletcher is forbidden to marry his distant cousin Alice, because he was a Puritan. In England at the time, Anglicans loathed Puritans, and vice versa. (This discord culminated in the Puritan revolution in England, with Oliver Cromwell in power and his armies destroying as idolatrous much religious art in Anglican churches.) After William is forbidden to marry the love of his life, he chooses to move to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where at first the Church of England was tolerated but was eventually forbidden by the Puritans. The Puritans became as intolerant of theological disagreement as the Anglicans had been in England. Catherine Sedgwick writes from the perspective of her Unitarianism, one of the forms into which Puritanism evolved, and that Massachusetts adopted as a state religion. She seems respectful of the aspect of the Indians' religion that sees divinity in the natural world, but nevertheless does not give it equal weight with Christianity.

Sources: American History Through Literature, ©2006 Gale Cengage


  1. ^ Sedgwick, Catharine."Hope Leslie". The Norton Anthology ed.7 Volume B, 2007, p. 1027
  2. ^ "Motif (narrative)". Wikipedia. Retrieved 27 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Samuel Gorton". Wikipedia. Retrieved 27 February 2012. 

levine, Robert S. The Norton Anthology American Literature. New york: Norton and Company. pp. 1010–1028. ISBN 0-393-92740-7.