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The Onondaga Madonna

Scott in in poetry The Onondaga Madonna tries to examine the different topical issues among the native Indians contact with the European race. The specific focus is on the racial relations between the Europeans and the first nation people. When t...Read More

~Posted on Feb 2018

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The Onondaga Madonna

Scott in in poetry The Onondaga Madonna tries to ...

Scott in in poetry The Onondaga Madonna tries to examine the different topical issues among the native Indians contact with the European race. The specific focus is on the racial relations between the Europeans and the first nation people. When the two races interacted, the former was viewed to be less superior in all their practices. This paper examines the race relations and which race was deemed superior and for what reasons.

The explicit theme of the poem, ‘The Onondaga Madonnadepicts the racial relation of native Canadians and the Europeans. The poem follows the format of an Italian sonnet, the fourteen lines are divided into an octave with abbaacca as the rhyming scheme and by a sestet with defined as the second rhyming scheme. The octave is marked by the use of alliteration in all the eleven lines example in line two, ‘weird and waning’. The first instant of racial relation in the poem is seen in the octave, which clearly describes a native woman and tells what might happen in the future that is the extinction of her people. From the poem, it is clear that the woman is hostile in her behaviors and savage pagan actions with a violent temperament.




Sestet, on the other hand, tells focuses on the demise of the people of Onondaga, as illustrated in line 11, the woman’s son, ‘paler than she is’ this show the interaction between two races hence the son is, at least, half white. The intermarriage and assimilation with the Europeans which was advocated for at the time was considered to be the cause of a diminishing race of the Onondaga. In criticism of the natives and their way of life, the poem can be misjudged as a racist as it depicts the native woman in the poem to be a pagan, ‘pagan passion burns’. To civilize the native, the poem advocates for intermarriage as the single element that should be used and the assimilating them into the more supirior European people. According to the poem, the native people had the blood of savage and passed this to the new generation which can only be rectified by intermarriage.

From the title, one can conclude the racial interaction even before reading deeper into the poem. The irony in the title is heavy since the name Madonna is an allusion to the biblical mother of Jesus Christ; the contradiction vividly conveys the interaction between the Onondaga and the Madonna. Onondaga woman portrayed against Madonna is a clear juxtaposition of culture and race which are wild and one which is modest. At the time of colonization, Madonna represented the European culture while the Onondaga was the natives who resisted the interaction. The poem is a depiction of what went on during the interaction of different races of European and the native Canadians during colonization. His description of the woman who represents the fast Nation people is the instance that explicitly shows the relations of different races.  The narrator describes the woman who is from Onondaga in a way that shows the resistance the first Nation put against the Europeans who he gives the name Madonna. Madonna is an illusion from the Bible of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

When Scott is describing the woman, from the first nation as strong, in line one, then jumps ship and call the way she stands as careless, ‘she stands full-throat and with careless pose.’ This reveals the opinion the writer has towards the first nation. As the line one depicts, the woman representing the native Indians, was standing-throated with a careless pause, this shows that they, the Indians were resistant agist the Europeans domination but in one way or another were careless to resist, giving the narrator the conviction that they will eventually bow to pressure. In the first two lines, Scott describes the rebellious lips of the woman of Onondaga, which is a suggestion of the practice to be inherited from their forefathers. Her savage nature as described by the poet proves that it is common among all the first nation people who are viewed to be racially inferior. They resist any form of change and are forced to adjust to the requirements of the superior race of the European. The baby is portrayed to prove a race that is facing extinction and a minority.     

In the second line, Onondaga woman is depicted as a ‘weird race’; Scott must have compared the practices of the two different races and concluded that the first nation ones were foreign. The connotation of the term weird is that it something which is strange hence the practice of the Onondaga was unnatural in the eyes of the other races. In the same line he describes the Onondaga as waning, this means that the Indians race in Canada is tremendously decreasing as new race come up through intermarriage with the European and association. The narrator continues to depict racial abuse against the woman, as he applies words like ‘savage’ and ‘pagan’ given that the other races which are European are viewed to be enlightened Christian. As the native Indians carried out their practices, which were strange to the people from outside their race, they were labeled savages as this depicted practices which were strange to the outsiders. Most of the natives then practiced totally different religion from the ones professed by the Madonna; Scott chose to use the term pagan, to depict a race that does not profess Christianity.

In the fifth line, the narrator tries to paint what the mixture of blood from two different races means on the interaction of the two races of Onondaga and Europeans thus, ‘Her blood is mingled with her ancient foes.' From the line, the poet views culture as an inherited quality inherent in one’s blood, this he thinks can be changed through marriages and education and so that the future children will have a culture that is accepted by even the Madonna. The savage nature of the previous line as revealed by the writer is, according to him, attached to the blood of the natives and the only ways to deal with this is through marriages with the Europeans and formal education. At this period and time, a race which was considered inferior were subjected to segregation and judgments as long as the blood of the race still runs in your veins unmixed and pure. It could only be purified through a marriage which was deemed to alter the characteristics which made the blood impure. On the 8th line, Scott describes the life of the great grandfathers of the woman as ‘woes’ as shown, ‘Of feuds and forays and her father's woes.’ Going to the race of the Europeans who are viewed as superior, the author depicts that the woman’s family that existed before also practiced the same savage behaviors which are unaccepted by their standards. The native Indians were viewed as a race that had gone was stuck with practices that were supposed to be abandoned, but they continued with them hence the advocate by the author to purify them through marriage.




The image that comes to your mind as depicted in the woman and her son in the 11th line, ‘Paler than she’ is another stanza that shows the relation between the natives and the Europeans. From the official portrait, it is evident in the poem, the son looks like a breed of the native and the Europeans. The woman who is worried about the dying culture and a people ironically has a baby sired by the Europeans who he views like the ones killing their culture. From here we can conclude that intermarriages and association with the outsiders had already started even though at a minimum rate.  In line 12, where the first nation people are referred to as the ‘primal warriors’, shows how the race was degrading by the colonialist who viewed themselves as the superior race. Onondaga is referred in this instance as primal a term that shows a track stuck in an age that is backward by the colonizers who tried to make them abandon their culture. All the undertakings of the natives were viewed to be primal, and their native heroes were termed as primal for resisting the changes brought about by the new race.  

The silent interpretation of the poem believes that intermarriage was the only way of considered to be important in the steps of civilizing the native people and then assimilating the m into the racially viewed European superior culture. According to the opinion of the Scott, the savagery behaviors of the native people were passed to them by blood to the subsequent generation which hindered them from actively participating in the civilized world.        

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