A Different Pair of Binaries

The aboriginal salt-and-pepper sets I’ve been describing in my latest group of posts are all gender-based.  They all consist of of one male and one female–or to be more accurate in the light of their indulgence is stereotypes, one cliché-type brave and one cliché-type squaw–the poem on the female of the pair I looked at in my last post even specifically identifies her as the “chief’s squaw.”   But this one is part of a different pair.  First off, he’s not human, but some kind of animal–a mouse, I think, but a mouse so entirely chubby-cheeked and cutesified that the actual species the shaker might claim to be representing remains a little uncertain.  Whatever else he is, though, he is cute–cute and aboriginal; you can tell he’s aboriginal by the headband with a feather in it (and also, a view from the back makes it clear that he is wearing a loincloth).  But this time, his partner is not an equally cute “squaw.”  Instead, we have this:Another mouse, but this one wears what looks like a cowboy hat and sports a pistol.  A cowboy and an Indian, then.  And most likely, two males.

What is most noticeable about them (beside the weird fact that even though they represent animals who have furry faces, their cheeks are nevertheless the cute rosy pink of an adorable human blush) is the devilish and mischievous look they share.  The Indian is either saluting or scouting, but in either case, he does so with a sly grin and arched brows.  The cowboy winks slyly as he shoots into the sky.  Neither looks very trustworthy.  Both imply something transgressive–the kind of defiantly uncivilized boyishness that used to be associated with various frontiers, perhaps, as in Frederick Jackson Turner‘s frontier thesis.   As Huck Finn says at the end of Mark Twai ‘s novel,

 I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

At any rate, this set of shakers seem to be more like compadres than enemies, more Tonto and the Lone Ranger  than the Whitehats against the Redskins. Once more, the racist stereotype seems to insinuating itself into allowability by being harmlessly cute, like a bad but adorable little boy saying bad words or wearying his muddy boots into the house.

Published by pernodel

Children’s literature critic and author of books for children

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