Cooper, Cather, Prichard, 'Pioneer': The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism


This essay considers three novels which each bear the word ‘pioneer’ in their titles: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823), Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers (1915). The three novels, although moving widely across time and space, are taken as representative of the creative literature of settler colonialism. A model of reading settler colonial literature is advanced that draws on four distinct features found across the three novels. These are: a tendency to spatialise the historical time of settler colonialism within the geography of the novel; the condensation of settler legal anxiety into a legal drama in the text; the application of a generational structure to Indigenise the settler; and the recurrence in the text of a ‘primal scene’ by which the settler society remembers its foundational violence in repressed form.

Literature’s relationship with European imperialism has been largely mediated in recent times through the perspective of postcolonial theory. As a product of that imperialism, Australia fell within this theoretical lens; Australian literary studies was fundamentally altered from the late 1980s and its status as postcolonial literature is now taken for granted. Although it was quickly apprehended that the kind of colonialism that prevailed in Australia was a settler colonialism, the situation was still largely subsumed within the paradigm of colonialism more generally, united with other forms of colonialism – trade, extractive, plantation – by ideologies of racial supremacy and in the basic encounter between colonist and Indigene, and all the vicissitudes that this precipitated. The advantage of recognizing the Australian experience (and thus its literature) as postcolonial was two-fold. First, it opened our literature to the theoretical repertoire of postcolonial theory and made it possible to read it in terms…

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Published 1 June 2016 in Volume 31 No. 3. Subjects: American (USA) literature and writers, Pioneers & settlers, Postcolonial criticism, Postcolonialism, Settler colonialism, Transnationalism, James Fenimore Cooper, Willa Cather.

Cite as: Hughes-d'Aeth, Tony. ‘Cooper, Cather, Prichard, 'Pioneer': The Chronotope of Settler Colonialism.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 31, no. 3, 2016, doi: 10.20314/als.17437df508.