“A Red Girl’s Reasoning” (1913) by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

E. Pauline Johnson’s short story “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” was originally published in Dominion Illustrated in February 1893. The story follows the unfolding of a relationship between an Indigenous woman, Christine, and her non-Indigenous husband, Charlie. The story explores social and cultural tensions between Christine and Charlie while critiquing stereotypes about women and Indigenous peoples in colonial culture.

Read “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” here, then answer the questions below.

For help with critical reading, see Close Reading Prose.

Reading Questions

  • What happens, and what is said, that breaks Christine’s heart? Why? What is her response?
  • How does Christine live out her beliefs? How does the ending upset the notion of the vanishing Indian and assimilation policies?
  • What is the relationship between laws, traditions, and colonization for Christine?

Criticism and Storytelling

In A Strong Race Opinion, Johnson argues that North American literature only has a singular, stereotyped representation of the “Indian” woman. While the American

heroine of today is vari-coloured as to personality and action … Not so the Indian girl in modern fiction, the author permits her character no spontaneity, she must not be one of womankind at large, neither must she have an originality, a singularity that is not definitely “Indian.” I quote “Indian” as there seems to be an impression amongst authors that such a thing as tribal distinction does not exist among the North American aborigines. (1)

Johnson asserts, “this lonely little heroine never had a prototype in breathing flesh-and-blood existence!” (2). She goes on to sketch out the characteristics of the dominant representations of the Indian heroine.

Johnson walks through all of these characteristics, showing how they are incongruous with Indigenous ways and reflect the dominant stereotypes of the non-Indigenous writers.

  • How does “A Red Girl’s Reasoning” reflect Johnson’s criticisms of North American representations of Indigenous women in “A Strong Race Opinion?” Show the explicit and implicit connections between her critiques and her story. Is Christine her Indigenous heroine?

Works Cited

  • Johnson, E. Pauline. A Strong Race Opinion: On the Indian Girl in Modern Fiction. 1892. CanLit Guides. U of British Columbia (Canadian Literature), Apr. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. (Link)