Paradoxically Progressive: The Red Progressives and the Creation of a Modern Native American Subjectivity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Edmunds

Second Advisor

Scott R. Lyons


Charles Eastman, Francis La Flesche, Genre, Native American, Progressive, Zitkala-Sa

Subject Categories

Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures


Tracing the complex and contradictory construction of a modern Native American subjectivity through the autobiographical texts of the Red Progressive writers Francis La Flesche, Charles A. Eastman, and Zitkala-a, this dissertation examines how these writers strategically manipulate familiar Euro-American genres as they weave their autobiographies into the boys-book tales, outdoor educational guides, and progressive journalism of the early twentieth century. Their use of genre hybridity establishes an indigenous literary space that confirms Native American humanity and presents counter-narratives to the "vanishing Indian" model of assimilation in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This dissertation argues that La Flesche, Eastman, and Zitkala-a reframe Native American subjectivity by placing it where American educational practices, national anxieties over white masculinity, and progressive era social reform converge. The study illustrates how these broader social and cultural confluences paradoxically enable these Red Progressive writers to resist the long history of non-native representations of Indians and to self-determine a modern subjectivity predicated on an enduring indigenous self that engages with contemporary modernity to disrupt the white mainstream cultural expectations for Native assimilation. Though emphasizing Native American subjectivity, this dissertation engages the complexities of American ethnic identity construction in the past and the present by demonstrating the productive potential of the paradoxes inherent in the very notion of an "American" subjectivity.


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