The Title Begs the Question… a reflection on Outlander 4.5 “Savages”

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The title of this episode of Outlander begs a question and as a result, I found myself trying to answer that question and thinking about my own small piece of America. I watched this wonderful episode and found myself asking, why? Why did the settlers believe that they had the right to this land? After watching, I spent the morning reading.  The simple answer to my question is centuries of systemic racism and the belief that Christians had a manifest destiny to redeem the Old World and prepare it for the Biblical new earth and new heaven.

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I found myself remembering childhood field trips to the Christian Indian settlements of Gnadenhutten and Schoenbrunn.  The two villages were home to bands of Delaware Indians who had converted to the Moravian faith.  Led by the missionary David Ziesberger, these Indians found themselves caught between the opposing forces of American colonists and the British both distrustful of these peaceful Christian Indians. They were of course starved, attacked, and eventually brutally massacred.  When the group realized they had lost their plea for mercy they asked to be allowed time to prepare themselves for death. They spent the night in prayer.  The next day every man, woman, and child was taken to a “killing house” where they were stunned by a mallet to the head, so that they could be more easily scalped.

Savage.

The irony that these were “converted indians” is not lost on me, they were the very thing the Christians said they wanted.

I found this quote contributed to a member of the Pennsylvania militia that massacred the Indians of Gnadenhutten:

“…one Nathan Rollins & brother [who] had had a father & uncle killed took the lead in murdering the Indians, …& Nathan Rollins had tomahawked nineteen of the poor Moravians, & after it was over he sat down & cried, & said it was no satisfaction for the loss of his father & uncle after all”.[8]

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When I read this quote, I thought of Mueller who seemed genuinely surprised that God would allow his family, the ones who believed in God, to die and of his vengeance on an innocent.  He was the embodiment of the racism and belief in manifest destiny that paved the way to genocide.  It is to the show’s credit that I was able to feel horror and sympathy. I was as shocked as Claire and yet,… I couldn’t get the scene of gentleness and love he had for his family out of my mind.  I then remembered the Nuremberg trials and how they sent psychologists to interview those on trial.  They were expecting to find monsters.  What they found instead were people like Mueller who in all but this one area seemed to be normal people, loving family men and women capable of monstrosity because of a deeply held belief.

The question in the title asks us  …who were the savages.

When viewed in the abstract it’s easy to understand how it came about that the colonial English were without conscience in their mistreatment of the Amerindians, whom they labelled savages; most of the barbarities they used to crush them were first tested against Caucasians on their home turf: the British Isles. The Highland Scots and the Irish were the prime targets. They suffered unimaginable horrors while being subjugated. Torture, rapes, summary executions, property destruction and confiscation, etc. were the norm.  First Nations History: We Were Not The Savages by Daniel N. Paul

I continue to be impressed with the show’s commitment to show us the complexity of what happened and allow us to see all sides instead of simplifying the blame. I’m still further impressed by the series’ foreshadowing and call backs.  In contrast to Herr Mueller, who is quick to take up his gun and threaten violence, we see the Cherokee “savages” being reasonable and willing to change their ways to keep peace.   Jamie reminds us while speaking to Gov. Tyron that savages can be found everywhere and about the connection between the natives and the Highlanders.  They showed us that not all people of faith were the same in the person of Pastor Gottfried. They allowed us to see the Indians’ retaliation and the conflict between the colonists and the British.

 

Life on the Ridge brings Jamie and Claire Home

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I live near an Amish community and through the years I have watched how they go about living “plain” in a very un-plain time. Everything they do seems to take time and effort. Nothing is as simple as hopping into a car for a trip to the store. I live on a lake and often see a group of Amish come fishing for the day. It is no small endeavor.  First of all, they have traveled miles and miles in a horse and buggy often with a boat strapped to the top. It isn’t a light commitment to participate in what to most of us would be a leisure activity.  They have to plan to be gone for hours and take care of their horses and fighting traffic takes on a whole new meaning when you are Amish.

However, despite all the extra time and energy they spend to wash clothes, heat their homes, grow and cook their food, there is a sense of simple well-being in their efforts that I find myself admiring. Their lives are about creating a place to call home that meets their basic needs. The Amish’s sense of community in my part of the world is strong. They care about and help each other. I’m sure their lives are not idyllic or without some of the social issues we all face, but their daily goals are simple and their days filled with concrete purpose.  Each day is greeted with plans that have nothing to do with obtaining  power or more and bigger possessions. Oh, they try to make money, no doubt, but the end goal is different.  I often find myself wondering if their life is not in some ways better than mine. I sometimes wonder what would life be like if what I worried about and stressed over really were matters of survival and my sense of accomplishment and identity closely tied to the work of my hands.  I suppose that the life we now live is a result of our trying to survive and our own genius, but I find myself nostalgic and fascinated by the ingenuity of those who lived without modern technology. There is something about that life that feels…real.

My focus on the Amish was my way of introducing how I felt about this episode of Outlander. One of the reasons I loved Diana Gabaldon’s books about Jamie and Claire in America was that look at life as a settler and the quiet purpose and sense of well-being they experienced in that life. They have finally found the sanctuary they have longed for, a place to be together being husband and wife. To me, this was when Jamie and Claire truly became the people they were meant to be.  I was delighted to see that reality on my screen this week. The Claire and Jamie I saw this week were very close to the Jamie and Claire in my head.  They are creating a life together, they are using their gifts, they are caring for others, they are living their lives and facing life’s struggles with integrity and intention.

All credit and admiration goes to Jon Gary Steele and Terry Dresbach and their departments for the world they created that allows us to be totally immersed. I delighted in seeing that cabin filled with the fruits of their labors and marveled at the world they had created for themselves. I recognized so many items Jon Gary Steele’s team placed there.  The wooden bowls! I have a few!

He is the face of the Revolution

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As much as I adore the books, sometimes the show adds to my enjoyment and understanding of the story.  If Herr Mueller was the face of the savageness of colonialism, Murtaugh was the face of the revolution.  I love that they did not make him subjugated to Jocasta like many thought.  It would not fit who he was “a bold man who has been there before”.  As I watched him rile that back room of men to action, I understood why the settlers rebelled.  I understood who these people were.  They were people hardened by circumstance and no longer willing to take whatever the British mete out.  What more were they going to do to these people? Imprison them? Make them indentured servants? Chase them from their homeland?

In the tradition of ever complicated Outlander relationships, after a joyous reunion, Jamie and his god father Murtagh find themselves at odds. Jamie has given his word to quell any uprising by the regulators and Murtaugh is one.  The scenes involving Murtagh with Jamie and Claire were glorious.  Bravo to Sam Heughan, Caitrionia Balfe, and Duncan LaCroix they made me believe they were stunned and overjoyed. Jamie had so much to tell him and Murtagh wanted to hear every word. I loved that Jamie shared his joy of Claire’s return and pride in the child he has never met and Murtaugh being so happy for him.  I kept thinking how grateful Jamie’s mother Ellen would be. We see the lure of family and Murtagh’s commitment to Jamie when despite his commitments in town he whistles his way back into our hearts on the ridge. This just keeps getting better.

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A Few Added Thoughts

I got a another look at how strange it must be for Claire to live in this world with knowledge of the future.  I remember when she figured out  the Highlanders she spent everyday with would probably all be dead in a few years and I wondered how she dealt with the same knowledge about her indian friends and neighbors. I’m not stressing the bawdy lady coming on to Jamie and Roger’s overall frumpiness (I have faith he will become a frontier butterfly of sexiness). I love the mystical bend they are taking Adawehi sensing Bree’s presence, Jamie kissing Bree on her birthmark, the intersection on Grandfather mountain, etc

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47 thoughts on “The Title Begs the Question… a reflection on Outlander 4.5 “Savages”

  1. Kate Soehnlen

    Beth, would you be interested in having lunch sometime? I live about 40 minutes north of New Philadelphia and would love to chat about Outlander. Contact me via FB if you wish to meet. Have a great day! Thanks so much for your interesting blog. I always read it!

  2. Very well said. And (as one of the people who assumed that Murtaugh would be taking the place of Duncan Innes), huzzah to the writing team for such a better use of his talents and strengths. Oh, how I love Show Murtaugh!

    I am finding the show to be a bit heavy handed with the “noble savage” trope, but that’s a little beef. Herr Mueller’s madness in the show was even more jarring than what we read in the books, because we could see and hear it. My imagination, as lively as it is, didn’t go there.

    A strong episode, and one I will gladly watch again.

    Thanks again, Beth, for such a great blog. Your reviews are always very well done.

  3. Glory MacTavish

    Enjoyed and appreciated this episode so much more than the first 4. The portrayal seemed so much better, the acting more organic and the cabin glorious. Would love to have a cabin like it.

  4. Nancy C.

    Thank you for thoughts and your ability to teach and remind us of what a lot of us tend to forget. I also love that you live among the Amish and have such respect for their way of life.

    This episode was a powerful one. There were so many great moments. #1 was Murtaugh. I knew he would be back, and I did assume he would be Jocasta’s Duncan. I was thrilled that he is not! I was reminded of Dougal when Murtaugh was talking to the people about the current climate of the times. It actually gave me goosebumps.

    I believe this episode was the one that took many of us back to our history lessons. Outlander surely outdid itself with Episode 5. (really? 5?) Thanks again, Beth. I don’t know how you do it each week, but I look forward to reading what you have to say.

  5. Atlanta Gal

    As always, enjoy and agree with your insights, Beth. And the irony of Adawehi being killed and scalped for being a “witch,” in Herr Mueller’s words, was inescapable.

  6. Ann Kelman

    Beth. This is a delight to read. You have yet again managed to précis the episode highlighting elements that were so important to making it thought provoking. In Scotland when someone speaks up we say they’ve a “guid Scots tongue in their heid”. Murtagh used that tongue to vent how crowd were feeling. And how right you are to parallel the manner in which the English subjugated the Highland Scots and the Native Americans! Well said ma quine.

  7. Beth, I’m loving the mystical element too! Loved that little knowing half-smile that Adawehi gave Claire when Claire acknowledged that Bree was there in her heart. Adawehi was thinking, “Yes, she is, my friend, but that’s not exactly what I meant.” And I love that Murtagh is back! I adore how the series has developed his character and taken us on that ride. He’s part of the family! Wasn’t sure how I was going to like that deviation from the book, but I’m very glad they chose to keep him alive. I am really enjoying this season so far! – Dawn

  8. Alison Main

    Your commentary was eye-opening, and inspiring, as always, but maybe a wee bit more so with your helpful research added to it.
    Must admit, the “glam” cabin distracted me at first from the action. Where did all that stuff come from, and fancy windows would have cost a fortune at that time.
    Lovely to have Murtaugh back.

  9. Shirley Shumate

    Love this!!!!❤️ My family settled around Grandfather Mountain at about the same time….love your thoughts on the historical detail! Thanks.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  10. Anne

    Always love your insights, Thanks. This is a complex story to begin with, and this episode was just packed with both obvious and miniscule bits of complexity, made even more complex by doing the Murtagh story line the way they are. Absolute genius! Your insights help us look beneath the surface, see the complex bits that the show writers have included, and then think about it all. This episode definitely needs several re watches to pick up on the … complexity… yeah, I know I have over used that word here, but I can’t think of a better one. Thank you!

  11. Theresa Brandt

    Thank you for your thoughtful review especially regarding the interactions between the First Nation and the colonists especially your comment about the colonial/British tactics having been practiced upon the Irish and the Scots. Many people forget, overlook or don’t know the history of British colonialism and brutality. Yes, I am fully aware of brutality on both sides.

    Your review was also a nice reprieve from the hysterics of the ‘fandom’ of which I am very weary. There is such a bounty of richness in the TV show which I believe has been pretty faithful to the books both directly and indirectly that I find it hard to levy any kind of significant criticism. Having followed Terry Dresbach who has taken us behind the scenes of costuming as well as Diana Gabaldon, I just have to say that I am happy and GRATEFUL for the thoughtful adaptation of those beautiful books. I honestly believe that the only one who has a legitimate right to complain is DG and since she is pretty happy, I am too.

    Thank you again. Yours is one of the few reviews that I trust and will consistently read.

  12. GGW

    Hey Beth, this season has been so fun to watch! I wondered how it would go because to be honest, DOA was one of my less favorite of the books. There was so much cumbersome reading in between segments of high energy, crazy action! I recall skipping large segments on re-reads, if not skipping the book all together! I can only share such heresy here among the enlightened!! LOL! Anyway, all of that to say that the writers have done a fabulous job of getting to the heart of the matter with just the right amount of exposition of the politics and endemic racism of the time and moving the story along! Well done all! When I was 11, my family took a driving vacation through middle America and one of our stops was the Little Big Horn National Monument. While technically a marker commemorating the US Cavalry loss to the Sioux and Cheyenne, what I remember vividly and made a lasting impression was the certainty that while the Sioux and Cheyenne won the day at Little Big Horn, they nonetheless lost the war and their way of life. That was in 1974 when Native American issues were getting a lot of press following the Lakota occupation at Pine Ridge. Two hundred years after the events depicted in the episode. It’s always felt like the US never progressed any farther in the debate of who owns the water. So unutterably sad. On a lighter note, I love the return of Murtagh and his iteration as a leader rather than a Duncan Innes substitute! Will be interesting to see where this new thread leads!!

    • Monica

      I am always stunned to hear people say DOA is one of their least favorite books because it is my favorite 2nd to Outlander itself. I love it because Jamie and Claire finally have a real life and not just reacting to what life throws at them. They have their first HOME. To me, that is who they are to each other, a home in this world. Billy Joel has a great song on the Piano Man album, “You’re my Home” The song basically says no matter where we are, You are my home. I love to read about what they have to do daily as chores to maintain this home and their home includes their family of Ian, Rollo, Fergus,Marsali and eventually Roger and Bree etc.

  13. Great recap Beth. I really enjoyed this episode. It was different from the book but enough of the book was included to keep this bookie happy. I was horrified by Herr Mueller’s tirade against the Indians for having the audacity to take water from his stream and trespass on “HIS” land. Even more sickened by his revenge killings. It’s so sad that early settlers truly had no thought, regret or understanding that they were stealing the land from the Indians. As you pointed out “normal” people can abdicate responsibility for their wrong doings when they believe the cause they believe in s correct.
    I’ve always been shocked by historians who refer to mass killings by Indians of white settlers as massacres and mass killings of Indians by white settlers as incidents. The aboriginals were totally mistreated by the Colonials – not just the English but the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese but that’s another story.
    What I enjoyed most was the solid, relaxed and loving closeness of Jamie & Claire – I’ve missed that. I almost didn’t recognize Murtagh – he’s never looked so clean and tidy LOL. I love how they handled the reunion of Jamie and Claire with Murtagh. How genuinely happy they were to be together again.
    Not sure where the story is going now that the Mueller’s have all been killed off and Murtagh isn’t going to replace Duncan – at least it doesn’t look like he’s going to. It’ll be a ride no doubt.

  14. Cathy L.

    Beth, what a wonderful and insightful recap as always! I make sure to read your posts to make sure I don’t miss anything.

    Do you think when Adawehi said death is sent from the Gods and will not her fault (in the previous episode), that maybe Adahwehi was foreshadowing her own death?

  15. Dell

    The same thing happened to the indigenous people here (Australia) when the British first settled. They said the land was terra nullis because the native tribes – who had lived here for over 40,000 years- didn’t build permanent settlements.

    Love your musings! They generally calm me down after I’ve read some of the cant and nitpicking in the big fan group/s. So reasonable!

  16. Laurel Howard

    I really enjoyed your insightful thoughts about this episode. The treatment of the native people of this country continues to be a shame on our collected conscious. The story of the Moravian mission in Gnadenhutton, and Schoenbrunn are stories I grew up with. My father was a Moravian minister in Dover, Ohio. In the summer’s there were re-enactment plays of village life before the massacres. I was involved in it at least two yrs. as a youngster. I will never forget how horrified I was when I learned that white men attacked these peaceful, Christian, villages and committed such outrage. There was cruelty on both sides, but the colonists were the interlopers. The Cherokee tribe really worked to be neighbors, and get along with the whites. They made their own alphabet, had regard for education, farmed, owned land. Even then they were uprooted to the ” Trail of Tears”,and reservations. We neglect to teach a real portrayal of our history. There are many wonderful things in our history, but our past should be a full representation of all our people. No matter how they got here.
    It was wonderful seeing Claire and Jamie finally making a home together. I wish more of our watchers would just appreciate that the show is different from the book and let it go. Your writing is refreshing so thank you.

  17. Love your connection of savagery in this blog. It seems the general Fandom had no problem catching this, but it was nice to read your connection in history to the Deleware people’s connection and the modern-day reminders of simpler living by the Amish, being also an Ohio resident. But not being an Ohio “native’, I had never before heard about the horrible massacres at Gnadenhutten & Schoenbrun. I have passed by Gnadenhutten many times traveling to my home town the” back way”, never knowing. There were too many of those horror stories. Savages, indeed.

  18. Marian Cartwright

    Beth, you always write interesting blogs, but this one really hit home. I’ve been thinking about our country and slavery and the invasion of North America and the displacement of the indigenous people. You are right, the Outlander writing team has done a great job incorporating the issues into the story. It has been an excellent season. Yes, there are always things that are misses, but there are big hits and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

  19. Cathy Crosby

    Hi Beth,
    I enjoyed your insights on this episode. This is the first one this season that I want to watch again. I so pleased how they chose to bring back Murtaugh as a strong, healthy and vigorous blacksmith, (compared to when we last saw him), and fighting against the British as a Regulator, fully himself again. In this new role he will help to define and explain the conflict and fine line that Jamie treads in being beholden to the British as Laird of Frasier’s Ridge and its tenants; and trying to keep the peace and end up on the right side of history as well.

  20. I appreciate your comments regarding OUTLANDER and episode 405. One point I feel compelled to make, before folks think Amish and Menonite have perfect lives or because they live simply they are averse to violence. It’s not true. Find an Amish community and you are likely to find puppy mills. Filthy places that raise a crop of living creatures as often as possible. Places where a 24×36 metal crate holds not one, but multiple animals. Where crates are stacked one on top of another without the metal tray, to make it easier to use a shop vac (electric) to clear the feces from the lowest row, if they bother at all! Dogs are a cash crop. It’s sickening should you ever get to see one. Fifteen years ago I adopted a puppy out of a puppy mill on an Amish community. He was 13 months old but put up for auction because he didn’t have a strong sex drive. In other words they tried to breed him at a year and he was so damaged he just wanted to chase the female. His own Mother? Who does that? They handled the dogs using plastic bags because their coats were so filthy! To the day he crossed to the Rainbow bridge he was terrified of the bags I used for kitchen trash. When I got him home even tho he’d been in a veterinary facility for heart worm testing, his coat was removed and he was bathed and neutered he smelled bad. With good food and outdoor runs it went away, but I don’t ever want to smell it again. I think the producers and writers of Outlander are doing a great job, this last episode was in fact a lot of information in only an hour, and it was among the best to date. I can’t feel guilty of the way the world was then or now. Manifest Destiny as you mentioned was something sold to the early settlers by a government that cared not about the various Treaties they broke. I still shiver at the condition of today’s reservations. How can they continue to practice their way of life when education opportunities are few and far between. When jobs are hard to find and where alcoholism is still a problem today. The producers are giving us a bird’s eye view of issues of the eighteenth century that remain issues today. As Isobel Dunsany told Jamie, “…a cage is still a cage.” Be it inner city plantations to keep one race subjugated to a political philosophy , or a reservation to keep another race “in their place” the series is doing a service to reveal a greater issue than taught in schools today!

    • Thank you for adding your thoughts. I am aware of th puppy mills and I was careful to say that they are not perfect. I know that sexual abuse and domestic violence can be an issue in their communities as well just as they are in non Amish communities. And, yes the show is just scratching the surface of a very deep issue.

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