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As It Was in the Beginning
The story “As It Was in the Beginning”, by E. Pauline Johnson, a member of the Cree tribe a Canadian Aboriginals, is about Esther, a young Aboriginal woman who left her family to become educated and converted to Christianity. She has learned the white man’s ways but is very homesick. She misses the more natural surroundings of her people. The story is important because it deals with very universal issues like homesickness, prejudice, and love.
The story runs on the theme of discrimination and hypocrisy prevalent in America. The story illustrates the many sufferings of the Indians, who saw their culture ravaged in the name of a God they had not heard or needed before. Father Paul takes Esther away from her people and tries his best to turn her into a white “civilized” girl. However much Esther learnt during her life in the mission, she is not seen as an equal by him, who claims to love her, but just pity her for red skin. We also get a brief glimpse of the horrible injustices inflicted upon the Native people in the name of religion. Religion is used as a weapon to assimilate Native children and wipe out their culture.
Esther was a native who spend all her childhood in a catholic mission. She grew up with father Paul and his nephew Laurence, in the mission. She always remembered her redskin family and was always hoping to go back home. One night she realized that Laurence and she are deeply in love for each other. This brings a new happiness to Esther, a new hope. Now she has a reason to stay, but very soon all this new happiness was going to end because of Father Paul.
One day Lawrence confessed to Father Paul about his love to Esther and his decision to marry her. This really upsets Father Paul who doesn’t agree with this marriage. He imposes these prejudices on Laurence, convincing him to marry Esther without a thought to how Esther might feel. Father Paul doesn’t even regard her as a person, much less a woman with thoughts and feelings and intelligence. How ironic that he teaches love and acceptance on one hand and yet does not practice what he preaches.
Esther was a pagan, father Paul exclaimed, a person with mix blood. Her mother was a redskin and his father French. She was a savage, an uncivilized person who Lawrence could never trust. He wants that Lawrence get marry with the Hudson’s bay factor’s daughter, a white girl. Unfortunately, father convinces Lawrence and made him believe that marrying Esther was a bad decision.
Esther realized that she had wrongly trusted Lawrence, Father Paul and their religion. It also made her realize that all the love and care that Father Paul gave her through years were false. He does not love her; he was just worrying about doing his job. The same man whom Esther so much revered and respected and loved and took him as a saint became her own enemy in the end. And this definitely broke Esther’s heart and made her wish to go back home more than never.
In the end, Esther wanted to kill Lawrence who betrayed her so that that will break Father Paul’s heart and he suffers. He has killed the best of her, her womanhood so she will kill his best of his pride, his hope-his sister’s son. She took out a small poisonous arrow from her bag of her buckskin dress which her mother gave her. Then she quietly went to him and knelt down and scratched his hand twice a Lawrence slept forever. She turned the lamp down and ran out of the house and finally went back to other family.
Father Paul is never out right cruel to Esther, but is there none the less. Johnson uses irony and religious symbolism in this story to convey the hypocrisy of Father Paul’s ideologies about the Native people. Father Paul is a fraud and a hypocrite in that he presents one face to Esther and another to Laurence. He pities Esther rather than loving her as he says he does. She is his project. He molds her into the closest thing she can get to being a nice, white, Christian girl, yet when the possibility of marrying Lawrence comes up, Father Paul’s true feelings come to light. For all her education in the ways of the white, Protestant world, she will never be an equal in Father Paul’s eyes.