This lovely scene in late afternoon shows an Indian woman, colorfully dressed, with a sweeping backward gaze, seemingly lost in contemplation and reverie. Next to her is a loyal dog that cautiously follows her into the river, while up ahead, the backside of a male Indian and his horse retreat farther into the water touched by the setting sun.
Of her Miller writes, “She looks on him as her hero, and as a condensation of all virtues.—The glass of fashion and the mould of form, Th' observed of all observers.” (Ross, 130) Quoting thus from Hamlet, Miller likens the woman to Ophelia, whose words come at a time of distress after Hamlet ends their engagement. However unlike Ophelia, who notes later in her speech Hamlet’s fall from grace and her inevitable suffering at his hands, no such enlightened understanding is attributed to the woman. Instead Miller tasks himself with informing the viewer of the true character of the man, “likely to be a selfish tyrant, cheat, and murderer…continually debating in his mind where is to be his next field of plunder?...and in the end leaving a name,-- Linked to one virtue, and a thousand crimes.” (Ross, 130)
The last quote comes from Lord Byron’s poem The Cosair, whose protagonist’s one virtue was saving the life of a female slave, amid his life of pillaging and killing. Miller uses the line several times in his descriptive commentaries on Indian braves and their exploits.
However, the scene Indian and His Squaw Fording a River is a romantic, peaceful image that suggests nothing of Miller’s text. By coupling such disparate understandings of the scene, Miller is able to fashion an imagined tension in the viewer who must reconcile Miller’s seemingly privileged narration with his intention as artist.
Emily C. Wilson
The artist; William T. Walters, Baltimore, MD; present owner by gift