The essays Our Time by John Edgar Wideman and Indians': Textualism, Morality and the Problem of History by Jane Tompkins are both written by people who are telling stories about experiences that are not their own. Wideman is writing about his brother Robby and all of the difficulties he encounters, so that Robby's story will not go unheard. Tompkins is trying to uncover the real story of the interactions between American Indians and the Puritans in Colonial America, so that she will be able teach it to a class. Both of these writers find problems along the way that make it difficult for them to feel as though they are justified in their assessment of what occurred. No matter how much information is gathered, these writers are still bound by the limits of their own perspective. Writers in such cases need to consider their distance from the subject and be sure to have some level of objectivity.
[...] Wideman creates very little psychic distance when he takes on the voice of Robby's brother because it is hard for him to exclude personal judgments when the character and actions are so close to him. While Robby is speaking, Wideman writes, “I'd listen and get angry at my brother, because I registered the effect of his escapades on the woman who'd brought us both into the world” (759). Hearing Robby's story made Wideman more aware of what had really been happening, so he feels the need to voice his feelings as Robby's brother. [...]
[...] Tompkins feels as though her knowledge is limited by the fact that all of her sources, both primary and secondary, are based on the opinion of the historian and fears that her conclusions will also represent opinions as fact. For Tompkins, it began to boil down to epistemological confidence, which she had none of. That is, confidence in the conclusions of personal research. She could not quite grasp how any of these historians could be so sure that they had found the undeniable truth. [...]
[...] Wideman knows that if he does not try, then the only alternative is silence, and his goal of making Robby's story known will be lost. He leaves the task of deciphering his own version of Robby's story from Robby's version, for the reader. In this same way, Tompkins decides to keep trying and not to settle for the alternative. She changes her approach and fears loosing her original motives. With all of the variations in sources, it seems as though Tompkins has choice but to end in relativism” (730). [...]
[...] Both Tompkins and Wideman come to the realization that they cannot be completely satisfied, and in order to give an account of anyone else's experiences, they must be willing to make epistemological compromises. Neither one of these writers expected to encounter such deep or ethical concerns. They realize that finding truth will be much harder than the first suspected. Wideman's major concern is that he does not want to exploit his brother or make his audience believe something that is not completely accurate. [...]
[...] writing and what time frame in which they are writing. Every account seems biased by the decade in which it is written; the facts are not consistent enough throughout sources for her to judge which historians are accurate in their assessment of the past. Therefore, Tompkins doubts information that is in conflict with the statements of another source. It can be speculated that she does not want to be held responsible for believing anything until she has heard as close to everything as she can. [...]
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