The Female American is the captivating tale of the survival of a young woman stranded on a deserted island. As an Indian princess, Unca Eliza Winkfield has had a special feeling of being protected that has cushioned her for the entirety of her young life; as a result, when she is violently ripped from all she knows, she suddenly becomes entirely self-reliant, thus offering the opportunity to analyze just how much gender plays into how she survives.
Gender matters in this book because it is the stereotypical agent that makes Unca believe that she would perish without help. In the midst of enjoying her self-preservation skills, she makes sure to thank the man who left her the tips on how to survive. As Unca bemoaned, “for had not the hermit made these discoveries, and left the means of my coming at the knowledge of them, how miserable must have been the state of a lonely woman! Doubtless I should soon have perished with hunger” (73). Despite being a respected, highly-skilled archer, a rather un-lady-like thing, Unca is convinced that she would have died on her own. She, at the point of this writing, has survived being orphaned, has witnessed the massacre of her slaves, and has been exiled from a boat for not surrendering her riches. She feels powerless, I’m sure, but she is far from incapable of handling herself. Just because she grew up a rich, pampered young lady does not mean that she lacks the heart and skills necessary to ensure her survival. She is able to follow the manuscript. No one kills the goat or starts the fire for her. Her actions were her own, regardless of how she came to learn them. This concept is no different than a young girl changing a car tire in her time of need; no one is born knowing how to change a tire- people need to be taught how. Teaching such things is a natural part of life, and it does not mean that the individual was dim or unfit beforehand, just uneducated.
Gender is the common lens through which other characters view Unca. They see a vulnerable, scared young woman. Even when reading this book, I saw her that way too. However, despite her fear and vulnerability, she is also smart, hard-working, and a keen fighter. She breaks down and cries over her current situation and yet she also thanks God for keeping her alive thus far and giving her the strength to carry on. Many underestimate her and her power; I think that she’ll be able to surprise everyone, and maybe even herself, in the coming chapters.