Details of Thesis

Title A Call Above Duty: The Portrayal of the South Pacific Missionary in Children's Literature 1800 – 1935
Author Nolan, John
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2000
Abstract The aim of this thesis is to examine the portrayal of the South Pacific missionary in children's literature published between 1800 and 1935. It examines how hagiographic literature was used to suggest to young readers that the missionary was both an emissary of Western civilisation and the incarnation of Gospel values. It seeks to document the nexus between contemporary anthropologica1 thought, colonialism and religious beliefs which underpinned the views and values presented to the child reader.The thesis examines the years 1800 to 1935 as this period was characterised by intense public interest in the exploration of the region and gave rise to the greatest volume of publications for children featuring the South Pacific missionary. The thesis analyses biographies published for children of the more famous missionaries, including John Williams, James Chalmers, John Paton and Coleridge Patteson. Attention is also given to the missionary in fictional literature and adventure stories, in particular the popular writings of R. M. Ballantyne (most notably The Coral Island). Comparisons arc made with the depiction of the missionary in children's literature using other locations, specifically Africa and China. The thesis also examines how women were portrayed, the connections between trade and missionary activity and the cultural bias evident in the portrayal of indigenous people and their societies. The thesis concludes that the portrayal of the South Pacific missionary between 1800 - 1935 was designed to enhance the status of the missionary by depicting them as being superior to secular heroes such as Captain Cook. By drawing on the imagery of the medieval knight and through the trope of 'Muscular Christianity' the missionary was depicted as having the courage of the explorer, the wisdom of a leader, the nature of a gentleman and the faith of a martyr. The indigenous people were infantilized and the trope of cannibalism was utilised to dehumanise them. Western style housing, clothing, literacy, work ethics and technology were advocated as indicators of the superiority of Europeans, while their adoption by indigenous converts separated them from the 'heathen' of their race. This 'superiority' of Western culture was attributed to the influence of Christianity and the Bible in particular, The missionary was shown as not only redeeming the indigenous people from sin through the revelation of the Gospel, but also as being their friend and protector who gave them the benefits of European living. In particular the 'medicine man' or spiritual leader of the indigenous reIigion was demonised and his influence and position assumed by the missionary who often formed a political alliance with the social leader, or Chief. The presence of the missionary was often further legitimised through the enthusiastic testimony of converts and indigenous teachers' pleading for more missionaries to come to the region. Other Europeans, such as traders and beachcombers, were denigrated as exploiting the islanders and their actions were often condemned as being worse than the 'savages. ' The publications sourced and studied were all Protestant in origin, suggesting a lack of children's Catholic material on missionary endeavour in the region. Similar to the traders, the Catholics were also denounced as interfering with and complicating the task of conversion and redemption. The role of the European female as wife of the missionary was minimised and they were usually relegated to the minor role of passive assistant to the ever-adventurous male. The publications were a vehicle for inculcating the religious and social beliefs of a triumphant Western society and for encouraging children to support the missions. either through their own vocation or through the giving and collecting of money. While they ostensibly promoted Christianity and the activities of Missionary Societies by paying homage to the faith and valour of the missionary, undoubtedly they also justified to the young reader the European cultural dominance and colonialism of the era.
Thesis NOLAN_JOHN_2000 7.12 MB

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