GVSU LIT 295 - Charlotte Temple Essay

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Reed BarkerNeeds TitleOn the outermost layer, Susanna Rowson’s classic novel Charlotte Temple is a tale of a young woman falling prey to a dashing soldier, abandoning all her former friends and shattering the bond between herself and her parents. However, these characters and ideas represent bigger concepts than themselves, and their story is merely a setting for Susanna Rowson’s true message. Charlotte Temple is not only a romance novel, it is also an allegory describing how the author thought the newly founded United States would end up after recently declaring independence from the British. First, one must consider the historical context in the time that this novel was written in. The Revolutionary War had ended just over a decade before, and many people living in America still considered themselves Englishmen. Blythe Forcey describes the mood of the general population at the time as “…one of distrust, alienation, and isolation, which was exaggerated by a nostalgic idealization of a supposedly stable, communal, and cooperative colonial or European past” (438). The people who would have been reading Charlotte Temple near the time of its publication would be able to relate to a story of a confused adolescent unsure of her own future as many citizens of the country were very unsure of their own future in the colonies. Charlotte is a symbol for the entire country; she feels sorrow because of her abandonment and begs her parents for forgiveness: “Will my once kind, …mother deign to receive a letter from her guilty, repentant child?” (60). The main purpose of Rowson’s allegory is toimplore the young nation to beg for forgiveness and return to its roots under the care of England. This allegory becomes more apparent when you analyze each character and what they represent in the context of the American revolution. Henry and Lucy Temple and their cottage are metaphors for England, who Rowson looked back in nostalgically on as she described their life in the cottage with such compliments as “Content reigned in each heart and Love and Health stewed roses on their pillows” (20). The main villains in this story, Montraville, La Rou and Belcour, are all French. Before the revolution the French wanted to get back at England forlosing the Seven Years’ War, so they decided to supply aid and advice to a new rival of the British, the 13 Colonies of America. In the novel, these “villains” play an integral role in Charlotte’s betrayal of her parents. Charlotte represents America, and her plight is a warning from Rowson about the future for the newly born nation.The two characters that provide the most evidence for the allegory are Charlotte Temple and the unnamed narrator. Charlotte Temple betrays her parents trust by abandoning them to live with Montraville. However, Montraville is the one who ends up abandoning her and leaving her to die penniless and pregnant. Throughout the entirety of this tragic tale, the narrator interrupts at seemingly random intervals to warn the narrator about the dangers of ignoring your parents. Julia Stern, in her criticism of Charlotte Temple explains that the narrator’s job is to “regale the readers about the dangers of separation and independence and to argue that naïve young women are easily lured by promises of economic, social, and romantic freedom” (487). This narrator is a self-insert for Rowson where she makes points that can be interpreted by young women but by the entire nation, a nation that is like the ungrateful child who turned away from her parents to gain independence clearly before they were ready.Near the end of the novel, Charlotte, breathing her last breaths, hands over her baby to her mother in a finalact of repentance. This shows how Rowson predicted America would end up without the careful guidance of Great Britain. Rowson envisioned a broken, defeated America, killed by its own rebellious nature, begging for forgivenessand wanting to start over once more under the King. Susana Rowson was writing about what many people felt like atthe time. Nancy Armstrong, a critic of Charlotte Temple explains that “The omnipresent anxiety about losing one’s English identity gives us reason to believe that this story… was written and read with another narrative possibility inmind: a story about going native and starting up a whole new family in the wilderness” (291). Rowson projected what she saw as a broken and lost America onto her plot and characters to guide the readers, in a similar manner to how the unnamed narrator guides the readers. The reason why Charlotte Temple was so successful is because it connected to more people than most romance novels could by telling a deeper story hidden between the

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GVSU LIT 295 - Charlotte Temple Essay

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