All of Michael Crummey’s novels examine the connection, or lack thereof, between a tragic hero and his society which views him as a member of an obsolete culture or era. Often, the tragic heroes’ perspective that they are different in some way from the whole of society emerges as a result of stereotypical prejudices by the members of their community. In River Thieves, the Canadian Beothuk Indian tribe encounters isolation from and extermination by society when white European settlers arrive on their land and forcibly overtake it. Initially, the Beothuk Indians attempt to form friendly relations with the white men, but they soon realize that these settlers only care about domination over nature and their tribe. This creates tension between the two groups, especially after the Europeans accuse the indigenous people of stealing cargo from their ships. Although the natives are not responsible, the settlers decimate their tribal lands in an act of retaliation, ultimately leading to the end of an era for the Beothuk people.
In a similar way, the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1898 represented the domination of white American missionaries and businessmen over the indigenous population. Before missionaries arrived in Hawaii, the indigenous peoples, governed by a monarchy, lived content, prosperous lives. After the missionaries began to spread Christianity, however, the indigenous people grew fearful that God was angry with them and decided to punish them with intense poverty throughout the islands. As a result, the natives became complacent to the white men, allowing the Americans to gain political control in the Hawaiian government. In 1893, the missionaries overthrew the Hawaiian monarch at the time, Queen Liliuokalani. They imprisoned her and created an Americanized system of government, a conquest which deeply upset the indigenous Hawaiian population. Despite their efforts to combat the coup, the Hawaiian people were unsuccessful in stopping the Americans. Finally, in 1898, the Kingdom of Hawaii was officially annexed by the United States, marking the end of a politically tumultuous era.
Major Works Consulted:
Carpenter, Edmund James. America in Hawaii: A History of United States Influence in the Hawaiian Islands. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1899.
“Michael Crummey.” The McDermid Agency. Accessed Mar. 2, 2017. https://mcdermidagency.com/authors/michael-crummey/.
Crummey, Michael. Galore. New York: Other Press, 2009.
---. River Thieves. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Rhodes, Diane Lee. “Chapter V: Changes After the Death of Kamehameha.” United States National Park Service. Last Modified November 15, 2001. Accessed February 6, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/kona/history5g.htm.