Many people I know claim to have been inspired by this book. I decided to read now and I must confess that because I read it as an adult woman I’m a little amazed at how greatly the author describes male characters, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, compared to how poorly the women are viewed. I must say it is probably due to the conception of the late XVIII and beginning of XIX century, but nevertheless it felt wrong. I mean how can you say that any society can be made on the “courage and force” of men? It applies only at war, and again the context in North America at that time was one of intense colonization and the Civil War.
I was disappointed. I enjoyed the reading but was disappointed in how some characters seem to possess out of normality traits and at times it felt a bit farfetched. I kept telling to myself that the author wanted to describe the tale of two great warriors and it wasn’t the place for me to start analyzing the social implications of the stories. How can one not think of human condition in that time? I was amazed to see how little respect the great Indian warriors got from the “white skins” and that afro-american people were even less respected. I’m glad that at least the two main characters had their moral integrity and seemed to respect all people, irrespective of their skin color, and I say seemed, because women weren’t given any chance at being equal to man, not even one. Old Shatterhand even admits that a union with an Indian woman would ruin his life, a clear indicator that interracial marriages where seen as something to be feared because you would lose respect from society (?!? Those were the times), and that a good marriage might be one where social status meets and educated woman, that is not Indian or afro-american.
To be able to read about past times is like taking leaps into the unknown, only to be taken back and realize that progress isn’t a step you can take, it’s rather a slow process, which only through changing of moral attitudes can achieve it’s purpose. In that respect, May’s book is like a far cry for change, for human rights and for considering that is he choose to believe in something supernatural than we must take into account that others might believe in something else, and respect that belief and treasure the core idea, that is life is only a fraction and being good to others and yourself might help you enjoy more your time in the sun.
Considering that it is a sort of manifest of human rights with the aid of literature I am pleased with the book, and more pleased to see that the perspective of human rights has changed for the better, and even women get more and more opportunities to prove(although proving seems irrelevant) that they are equal.
In retrospect thinking of other books I’ve read that dealt with the problem of human rights, To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the most prominent that come to my mind (where the innocence of a girl is shaped by the experiences that her community have). Because it addressed a different time we can see the woman condition changing for the better, and the afro-american people condition taking turns in order to reach equity(although the change is not present in the book yet). Another great book which uses fiction to draw attention to how we can change our moral attitudes sometimes without knowing is Cloud Atlas (and I must direct to the story of Somni, which is relevant for the point I’m making). Of course that there might be other great books that I’ve omitted, due to ignorance or because I haven’t read them yet, which could have made a great point in how literature can awaken the thought and provide a reflexive means of change. After all, isn’t this the reason we read? To gain knowledge and reflect of the various implications of things read?