Many of you might already know, but for those of you who do not, I'm a college student studying at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I'm enrolled in various classes this semester including an english class titled, "Masterpieces in American Literature: California's Influence". It has been a couple years since I've taken a proper writing class, so there's some room for improvement as the semester goes on.
Our first paper was an analysis of the novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta which was published in 1854 and written by John Rollins Ridge also known as "Yellow Bird". John Rollins Ridge was apart of the Cherokee Nation and he is considered by some to be the first Native American novelist.
I enjoyed reading this book. I thought it was a fast read filled with action, adventure and violence. We were given several prompts to chose from as a theme to analyze for our first essay. I decided to go with Ridge's use of romanticism because I thought it was quite prominent throughout the course of the book.
Without further ado, this is my paper on The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta:
It is somewhat difficult to empathize with a serial killer and thief when given biased information and facts on the matter. What is so profound about the novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, however, is the reader’s ability to feel sympathy towards a character of malevolent and violent nature through John Rollin Ridge’s use of romanticism. The novel tells the fictionalized iconic story of a Mexican named Joaquin Murieta who succumbed to banditry when living in California during the gold rush. The author, John Rollin Ridge, also known as Yellow Bird, had specific past experiences in his adolescent and adulthood that gave him the capability to relate to many of Joaquin Murieta’s hardships. Many of Joaquin’s experiences prior to becoming a bandit were identifiable to Ridge, and helped the author empathize as to why Joaquin inevitably became so violent. Ridge intentionally chose to write this thrilling adventure novel using romanticization because it gave the reader an opportunity to sympathize with why Murieta chose the revengeful path he did.
It’s ironic that the use of romantic language and underlying tone tells a story of violent events so well. Ridge gives Murieta humanizing qualities that allows the reader to gain a deeper insight to his character. Through Ridge’s literary style, he is able to romanticize the struggle of Murieta’s character as he is tormented through multiple encounters from Americans and the state in the beginning of the novel. It’s only after the fourth incident that Murieta finally breaks, “The character of Joaquin changed, suddenly and irrevocably... He would live henceforth for revenge and that his path should be marked with blood” (Ridge 12-13). This introduction is essential for the reader to see how Murieta is shaped into the vengeful man he becomes.
One of the most prominent ways Ridge gives Joaquin humanizing qualities through his use of romanticism is by creating a foil character, Three Fingered Jack, who is uncontrollably aggressive and disturbingly brutal. Three Fingered Jack works alongside Murieta and tends to carry the deranged qualities that a normal killer and thief would assumedly have. By making Jack, Murieta’s right hand man it makes the contrasts between the two characters even more prominent, thus allowing Murieta to be perceived as a more civilized character. Murieta and Jack contrasted each other in a way that they were able to balance each other out as partners in crime. Ridge makes it clear that Murieta generally takes the subtler approach when approaching victims and doesn’t enjoy unnecessary killing because ultimately he only seeks justice and retribution. Whereas Jack would be more forward in his sadistic way without much concern as to who he kills. In a way, Joaquin needs Jack to perform violent acts that he wouldn’t want to commit himself.
A good example of romanticism of Murieta’s character through this foil relationship was when the two were fleeing Los Angles towards San Gabriel after a violent incident with Jack and some Indians. As they are traveling on the road they see two “helpless” (Ridge 47) Chinese gold miners napping at the base of a tree. Ridge expresses Joaquin disinterest in harming the men, “Joaquin was for riding on, but Three-Fingered Jack couldn’t resist the temptation of at least giving there pockets an examination.” (Ridge 47). Jack proceeded to get off his horse and approach the men to see what valuables he could take. He awoken them both with a vigorous shake, and the Chinamen “Awoke, and, seeing a horrible-looking devil standing over and glaring upon them raised s hideous shriek, and, rising fell upon their knees before him with the most lugubrious supplications in a by no means euphonious tongue.” (Ridge 47). Before Murieta could interfere, Jack knocks one man out with the back of his gun and threatens them to hand over what they have. “The amount was small – not more than twenty or thirty dollars – which so enraged the sanguinary monster that he drew his knife and cut both of their throats before Joaquin could possibly interfere to prevent it.” (Ridge 48). This dramatic word choice that Ridge uses when referring to Jack differs strikingly from Joaquin’s view of the occurrence. Ridge explains, “The young chief, who always regretted unnecessary cruelty but knew full well that he could not dispense with so brave a man as Garcia, said nothing to him but only groaned and rode on” (Ridge 48).
Although Murieta wants to stop such unnecessary cruelty to be committed, his knows he needs a “monster” like Jack to accomplish the justice he so desires. As the noble young chief that Ridge portrays Joaquin to be, he is able to maintain his righteousness by delegating the violent acts to his foil. The dramatic difference of language to describe incidences and thoughts of either character makes Joaquin seem like a ‘good guy’ from Ridge’s language. This apparent contrast of violent versus mild romanticism is a tool Ridge uses to leverage readers into feeling empathy towards Joaquin and antipathy towards Jack.
Ridge personifies Joaquin’s experiences and is able to utilize his storytelling through strong language to fictionally depict Murieta as a man who has suffered and thus sought justice. Though many believe there wasn’t any physical evidence of Murieta’s desire for retribution, this approach of literary usages is very witty when considering the history of The United States. As a country that is considered a melting pot of cultures and immigrants, many can understand and/or relate to the injustices that settlers had to face. By using this emotional leverage along with Ridge’s dramatic language and contrasting characters, it’s clear that the reader is able to feel sympathy towards Joaquin, a character of malevolent and violent nature under his circumstances to seek justice.
Ridge, John Rollin. The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit. University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
If you want to pick up a copy of the book, you can find it at most libraries or on Amazon!