Category Archives: Cultural Perspectives

The Character: Cultural and Psychological Perspectives


One of the fascinating aspects of analyzing literature is using critical lenses. Through the use of such lenses, the reader is able to not only focus his or her attention to one theme within the many that tend to thread through a piece, but also to expand his or her horizon when it comes to viewing the world through the “lens” of the “other”; this “other” being the character within the literature. Character behaviors and actions, indeed, are better critiqued when observed through a lens since the lens allows an explanation as to why the main character or any other character within a narrative makes the choices and decisions that may otherwise have no meaning to an outsider. As an example, using a critical lens may reveal the characters motives. Two particular lenses that allow the reader access to the characters thoughts and processes in a more meaningful way are the psychoanalytic and cultural critical lenses.

The cultural lens seeks to highlight relationships between different cultures and these cultures’ “beliefs systems, values, hierarchies, or laws” (Barton & Hudson, 2011, p. 54). In addition, analyzing the narrative through these lenses allows the reader to look at the relationships between, for example, the subordinate culture and “the dominant and competing” (p. 54) culture, and its ideologies (Barton & Hudson, 2011), revealing certain dogmas that reflect unconscious repression of a sense of irrelevancy towards that “other.”

When analyzing through the Jungian psychoanalytical lens, the reader looks for signs of psychological struggles faced by the main character or any other character that is indicating individuation struggles, which will be explained. The character’s conflict drives the plot through the following psychological processes: The persona suddenly confronts the shadow and guided by the anima/animus, embraces it, resulting in what Jung called individuation. The persona is the mask individuals present to society; the shadow is the secret self with respect to whether repressed or not repressed, conscious or not conscious, secret or not secret desires. To face one’s shadow side and accept it is to individuate or to become a whole being. The inability to do so leads to a neurosis where one projects the unresolved conflict onto others (Barton & Hudson, 2011; Ewen, 1998), differing only in degrees. This is but a simplified version of a very complex personality theory–but it captures its gist.

Three narratives where both the psychoanalytic/Jungian and the cultural critical lenses may be used, allowing the reader to delve deeper into the character’s cultural and psychological make-up are James Joyce’s (1914) “Araby,” Katherine Mansfield’s (1922) “The Garden Party,” and D.H. Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” Through these lenses, the reader understands the stream of consciousness each character undergoes when making certain decisions pertaining to both his or her cultural class as well as psychological state.

When critiquing Joyce’s (1914) “Araby” through the cultural lens, the reader sees the main character trapped in what appears to be the plight of youth living amongst relatives of the working class just above the line of poverty. The setting reveals that although the people in the neighborhood live comfortably, the state of the neighborhood conveys possible ruin if the working-class individual does not continue hard work; idling is not productive nor is it conducive to survival within the culture/class of this character. The neighborhood shows signs of poverty in the one “uninhabited house of two storeys…The other houses of the street,” were “conscious of decent lives within them…” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2503). The conflict we find is that this boy is also limited by the cultural boundaries or beliefs practiced by his aunt and uncle; these are people of the working class where the female stays home and the male works hard to make an earnest living. The young man’s uncle states that “he believed in the old saying: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'” (p. 2506) and because of his uncle’s cultural belief, the character feels cognitive dissonance and so emerges this psychological conflict in the plot.

The cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens because it seems one creates the other; the former creates the latter. Before this new love, the main character appears to have led a cultural belief similar to his uncle’s–his persona or public mask. His shadow side, his secret desire, however, is to frolic in love with a young mistress. But, doing so only leads to “not” doing what his uncle and culture deems fit: hard-work, duties and obligations. In fact, the main character finds himself in such a position and states, “What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2505). In other words, all he does is think about her and nothing else, avoiding his obligations and responsibilities.

The nameless boy has admiration for a female character; the anima begins the rising of the action, moving the plot through the conflict. The conflict that drives this plot: His shadow desires to break free from the restraints of his culture, to do something foolish as fall in love–to waste time for it. His persona keeps him trapped and unable to see this. When the anima arrives, in the form of this young lady, he is faced with the fact that there are two ways of living: Following his cultural ways (persona) or following his desires (shadow); it does not appear as though he sees an in between perhaps because of youth. He doesn’t seem to realize there is a balance between the two as anger and anguish overcome him.

At the end when his persona, led by the anima, finally faces the shadow, it appears the young lad does not embrace his desires and finds such views vain as he states in a stream of consciousness: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce, 1914, p. 2507). The resolution of this narrative: A brilliantly ambiguous ending that may mean that this limited and sad creature realizes the folly in love, the folly in the time he has wasted, and that makes him angry as well as upset, according to his cultural upbringing. His conclusion appears to be one that has not accepted his shadow; the boy has not accepted the foolish behaviors led by love, behaviors such as the ones plotted in the narrative. If this is so, the young protagonist will end up with a neurosis, according to Jung, one where he will end up just as his uncle–a worker with no time to idle; no love; coming home late at night after supper. And we come full circle and end up back with the cultural lens.

When critiquing Mansfield’s (1922) “The Garden Party” through the cultural lens, the main character is trapped in what appears to be the plight of youth living amongst relatives of the well-to-do upper-middle class who happen to live just above a working-class neighborhood. The setting reveals that the people in the neighborhood below live uncomfortably:
for the little cottages were in a lane to themselves at the very bottom
of a steep rise that led up to the house. A broad road ran between. True,
they were far too near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they
had no right to be in that neighborhood at all. They were little mean
dwellings…. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty
stricken. Little rags and shreds of smoke, so unlike the great silvery plume
that uncurled from the Sheridan’s chimneys. (p. 2651)

Through the cultural lens, it is obvious one culture is the dominant, unconsciously demeaning the lower one based on class–those undesirables should not live there. What is interesting and revealed through this critical lens is that most of the times, the dominant culture does not realize their oppressive and indifferent nature toward the oppressed because they view the “other” as a “creature.”

The conflict we find in this narrative plot is that this young protagonist, similar to the young protagonist in Joyce’s piece, is also limited by the cultural boundaries or beliefs practiced by her family and cultural kind. These are snobbish upper middle-class people who are indifferent to the lives of the oppressed working class as illustrated in this piece, if viewed through the cultural lens. Just below in the working class section of town, a father of five, a husband, had just died. Yet, right above in the excessive house, an extravagant garden party was to begin. “And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden part if they had ordered it” (Mansfield, 1922, p.2646). The young main female is limited in the sense that she is not required to show respect or mourning for those who are not in her cultural class and this confuses her.

Her persona conceals her real self, the shadow part, who she really is in the world of social class and culture: She is of the dominant class, yet feels akin to the working class. “She felt just like a work-girl” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2647). Because of this, the death of the strange worker, a lower social cultural class, upsets her; she believes “a man has been killed” (p. 2650) in the sense of a man of her culture and class. In that logic, of course, the garden party will not go on. This is not the case. The man killed is not a man in her culture but “a drunken workmen” (p. 2651). The character is left muddled as she is told of course the party will not stop! “Of course we can’t do anything of the kind. Nobody expects us to” (p. 2651). This conflict creates the psychological conflict within the young main character’s being, creating an overlap similar to the one found in Joyce’s piece. Just as with the main male youth in Joyce’s “Araby,” the main female youth in Mansfield’s piece also feels cognitive dissonance and so emerges this psychological conflict in the plot.

Once again, the cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens because it seems one creates the other; the former creates the latter. As with the young man in Joyce’s piece, the young lady in Mansfield’s piece is confused. A man died just below but the “Garden Party” is on because those below don’t count for the well-to-do. What does this protagonist ask? “Mother, isn’t it really terribly heartless of us?” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2652). The main female character’s persona is faced with the shadow through the death of the worker, the animus, from the “eyesores” below her lavish bliss above. To this point in the plot, the character believed she was good; that her life was wonderful and charitable; that she was pure and full of heart. Now she faces the shadow or secret self: That she is only these things in her cultural class. What enlightens the main character to the truth is the insight that she would rather forget “it” and attend the party–and then to make her conscience guilt free, remember and mourn after the party. Up to this point in the plot, the character found this act heartless.

It is heartless and that thought arising from the animus, the dead working father and husband, causes the young lady’s persona to face her shadow. She is lost as she cannot understand why she rather forget about what happened just for the party and begin thinking about it again after the party. “I’ll remember it again after the party’s over” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2652). It is this choice that causes the conflict, creating the rising action to the point where the character realizes she is as heartless as she had thought her culture and class were earlier that day; she discovered that “charming girl in the mirror” (p. 2652). Through the horror of experiencing the worker’s world, she embraces the shadow since she does not want to be in the place where the dead man lays or where his family lives. “Oh, to be away from this!” (p. 2654) is all she could think.

Towards the end of the falling plot after the climactic moment when she meets the dead worker, she has the ability to see who she really is, a creature that was dealt an excellent deck of cards in life compared to the creature who was helping her around, “‘Em, said the little creature who had let her in,” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 2654). She saw! She saw the dead worker at last liberated in a peaceful sleep called death. “He was given up to his dream. …He was wonderful, beautiful” (p. 2655).
She sees life for what it really is all about–back to the cultural lens again–it is all about what cultural class you belong, in this narrative’s case. Once again we have an ambiguous brilliant ending, through the Jungian lens, one may say that the young maiden may have possibly individualized as she realizes and accepts her place in society–she will probably now appreciate life that much more–and empathize that much more.

In D.H. Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” when viewing the narrative through the cultural lens and focusing on one of the main characters, Dr. Ferguson, it is obvious he is from the upper class and that he is a well-known travelling physician with working-class patients whose homes you could reach “by following the black cinder-track” (p. 2595) to the town full of iron-workers.

As we the previous pieces, in this piece, through the cultural lens, it is known that Ferguson is part of the dominant culture. This main character unconsciously has an air of superiority about him as he sees the iron workers his patients as uppers or speed-drugs! This young protagonist, he is a crazy scientist playing god and the iron workers are his patients. For this crazed doctor, it is “a stimulant to him to be in the homes of the working people, moving, as it were, through the inner most body of their life” (p. 2595). The doctor appears to be flying high on drugs, each worker another pill that make him feel a rush of what it must feel like to be god. In fact, it seems that in the doctor’s world, he is god and the workers are his creatures whom he saves, and whom he can pervade at a whim.

When viewed through the cultural lens, the conflict within this narrative plot is that this young protagonist doctor, similar to the young protagonist in Joyce’s and Manfield’s pieces, is also bound by his cultural class as he is expected to follow a certain protocol and maintain a distance from these working people who drive his inner mechanisms. The problem is that he falls in love with one of these working class patients. In a stream of consciousness the reader finds out that the main character:

He had never thought of loving her. He had never wanted to love her
When he rescued her and restored her, he was a doctor, and she was a
patient. He had had not a single personal thought of her. (p. 2598)

Note that he “restored” her as God restores his people. Besides, the doctor is having a difficult time breaking the barrier of not only patient and doctor relationship, but also the barrier of cultures. The conflict is that the doctor sees himself as the savior of these people and cannot see himself capable of falling in love with one of these creatures who are pure lab creatures for him. He is repressing his true feelings for this working class girl due to the cognitive dissonance created by his cultural upbringing and this now leads us to the Jungian psychoanalytical lens.

Yet again, the cultural lens overlaps with the psychological lens almost seeming as though one causes the other. As with the young man in Joyce’s piece and the young lady in Mansfield’s piece, in Lawrence’s piece we also find this young physician confused. In fact, this young physician is terrified. When this character faces the anima, his patient of many years and sister of his a friend, Mabel, the persona or mask he wears suffers a crack as the shadow tries to emerge, tries to make the doctor realize his true feelings for the young girl, but his persona is strong. “Mabel looked at him steady, dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease” (p. 2593). Indeed, the shadow has attempted to disrupt the persona so that it can embrace the shadow side: The side that wants to embrace Mabel. Yet, the doctor fights the shadow. That is until fate interferes and makes it impossible for him to turn away the shadow side since vanity overtakes him: He is a savior and opportunity provides him with a chance to save Mabel.

It is not until Dr. Ferguson saves Mabel from drowning that, guided by the anima, he finally faces the shadow, so it appears. In the plot, there begins a rising action to a climax where we find the young physician cannot “extricate himself. Or perhaps he did not want to” (p. 2597). We know he finally embraces the shadow since the point in the plot arrives when “He could never let her go away from the clutch of his arm. He wanted to remain like that forever”(2599).

Has the protagonist in this complex plot really individualized? Or has he reached a neurotic adaptation? As the plot resolves and leads to the resolution, the young doctor realizes that the pains in his heart are pains of love–but they may be that he seemingly embraced the shadow neurotically as a means to bring life and excitement to his “Nothing but work, drudgery, constant hastening from dwelling to dwelling….” (p. 2595). After all, the working-class were “a stimulant to him” (p. 2595). Another hint at this neurotic adaptation is when he first sees Mabel just before she tries to commit suicide, her image “suddenly” makes him come alive and attentive (Lawrence, 1922).

Due to the many variables, it appears the doctor may have a neurotic adaptation where there has not been a true embracing of the shadow side but a seeming one where the action is based on the reward received: Stimulation from knowing Mabel is from the working-class. Now god has a toy he can wind him up–Mabel–and a toy that needs saving. With this said, we once again come a full circle and back to highlighting the possible connection and overlap between the cultural and psychoanalytical lenses.
Using critical lenses allows the reader to view the literature in a way that enriches the piece and enhances critical thinking. Both the use of the psychoanalytical and the cultural lens yields an interesting read when applied to Joyce’s (1918) “Araby,” Mansfield’s (1922) “Garden Party, ” and Lawrence’s (1922) “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

References

Abrams, M.H., et al. (Eds.). (2006). The Twentieth Century and After. In Abrams, M.H., et al (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2293-2316). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Barton, E.J. & Hudson, G.A. (2011). A contemporary guide to literary terms. (3rd ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lawrence, D.H. (1922). The horse dealer’s daughter. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2590-2600). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Ewen, R.B. (1998). Carl Gustav Jung: Analytical Psychology. In Ewen, R.B., an Introduction to Theories of Personalities (pp. 81-119). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Joyce, J. (1914). Araby. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2503-2507). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Mansfield, K. (1922). The Garden Party. In M. H. Abrams et al. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (pp. 2646-2655). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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Human Condition in Literature: An illustration of fragmentation and reorganization


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Six essays about the human condition in post modernist literature, using the cultural and psychological lenses as analyzing tools. The focus is on character fragmentation and attempt at reorganization. What makes the book unique is the use of lenses to narrow in and highlight the cultural and psychological phenomenon experienced by the character(s). Never read through theoretical lenses? This is your chance as the author describes the use and how implementing such a technique enriches the reader’s experience.

Copyright 2014 by Hakes Publishing

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Filed under Cultural Perspectives, Essays, Fragmented Psyche, Human Condition, Jungian Lens, Literary Approaches, Literature, Literature and Philosophy, Mind and Body, Psychological Analysis of Literature, Reorganization of the Human Organism

Women in Literature: An Illustration of Oppression


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Three essays presenting negative images of women in Latin American, Caribbean, British and American literature.

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Filed under Condition of the American Female, Cultural Perspectives, Feminism, Fragmented Psyche, Literature and Philosophy, Mind and Body, Women in Literature, Women Studies, World Literature

Cultural Perspectives: Native American Literature


Cultural Perspectives: Native American Literature

My undergraduate focus was on the Native American plight, specifically the Miccosukee Tribe of South Florida. The Miccosukee and their cousins, the Seminole, are one of the few successful Native Americans on the continent due to a very successful casino business. Yet, there is much criminal behavior within the tribe, driven by alcohol and drug abuse. Native American culture is one that remains mysterious to some.  They see the Native American as an Indian good only for drinking, smoking and gambling in their casinos and reservations. The stereotype is of an ignorant and uneducated drunkard, incapable of morals and intelligence. They are low-class individuals whose descendants were barbaric heathens (Blake, 2004; Wiget, 2004). No one sees!

Once upon a time, these same people roamed the American lands, considering every inch of it sacred. They lived in harmony with not only the land but also with all of its inhabitants. This was an organic worldview they lived by, one which had its own principles and values. Although there were warring groups, war was minimal; disease was minimal. They were not drunkards or ignorant people–alcohol was introduced by the white man. Each tribe was able to commune with the land and each other in synchronicity, resulting in balance of both mind and matter (Blake, 2004; Wiget, 2004).

Now, yes, alcohol and drug abuse runs rampant within the tribes. Diabetes is the number one killer due to the staples forced upon them by the government. Cancer is another problem for certain of the Native American as tumors pop like corn within their being. For these people, exposure to contaminated water has pierced their body and soul (Blake, 2004; Wiget, 2004).

It is baffling as to why more empathy is not shown to these strong minded and intelligent people. Horrendous massacres occurred that included the slaughtering of babies, women, and the elderly–this is known. That young children were torn away from their parents at a young age to “Christianize” and “Civilize,” in public schools is well-known. That most of these children, some as young as five, committed suicide is less known; that this is still going on is even less known. That racism still exists against this culture is known but yet most “others” remain indifferent. The suffering and the pain endured by the past generations, the genocide no different from Hitler’s, still pervades in the minds of the Native American people’s dreams–better said, nightmares. Native American literature, as far back as to Chief Seattle’s speech, exposes a nation whose voice pleads to be heard but who have been denied that need. Today’s Native American prose and poetry is the only voice that reveals truths that most “others” find humorous, indifference remaining the same.

The seven pieces I have chosen, Seattle (2004) “Chief Seattle’s Speech,” William Apess’ (2004) “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man,” Elias Boudinot’s (2004) “An Address for the White,” Thomas Whitecloud’s (2004) “Blue Winds Dancing,” Simon Ortiz’s (2004) “from Sand Creek,” Joy Harjo’s (2004) “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window,” and Sherman Alexie’s (2005) The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, delineate the progress of the Native American not through U.S. history books or through ancient oral stories, but through written literature, both prose and poetry, capturing the emotion of the experience in addition to the narrative in chronological order as well as in the order of the culture’s literature evolvement. This movement of literature shows the parallel in methods, techniques and strategies with the other cultural literatures of the same time.

Although not an essay and although its authenticity disputed, I include Seattle’s (2004) “Speech of Chief Seattle,” to illustrate how by the turn of the century, this great chief gave a not very bright prophecy for the future of his kind. By the time Chief Seattle came onto humanity’s scene, the Native American plight had already taken shape as many tribes were massacred and eradicated from existence. In other words, most of the Native Americans tribes that existed before Columbus’ wave of murderers simply became extinct due to genocide (Wiget, 2004). The narrative for the Indian had begun, the climax reached and passed. By the Seattle’s (2004) time, the resolution was well underway. Seattle (2004) accepted defeat in this address, at the same time questioning whether the White man’s God was the same as the Red man‘s since that God had not shown any sympathies for the Indian, their cultural narrative playing out like Greek tragedy. In fact, the chief asserts that the Red man’s God has also shown no mercy. Seattle (2004) sadly spoke:

Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine. He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the pale face and leads him by the hand as a father leads his infant son–but He has forsaken His red children–if they really are His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax strong every day. Soon they will fill all the land. (p. 660)

This speech by Seattle (2004) is but the last words of a once robust culture as Seattle (2004) states, “The Indian’s night promises to be dark” (p. 661) and the days numbered, specifically to the days when the Native American roamed free in their land. The narrative of what once was is over; the characters have all “ebbed away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return” (p. 660).

Showing the progression in line with the other cultural literature of its time, Apess’ (2004) “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man,” uses the language of the elite. With scholarly words and perfect structure, the author laments the condition of his people at the turn of the century, the Native American. His point, however, is to illustrate how Native Americans are also capable of scholarly writing. Apess (2004) piece portrays images of a dying Native American culture. By Apess’ time, this death force came not only from without; the white wave had now infiltrated the within of the Native American, yielding destructive behaviors that resulted from oppressive conditions and the booze introduced by the encroaching white race. In particular, Apess (2004) asks us to take a few moments to look into the reservation and what the white people would find. He illustrates:

…as they wandered from one hut to the other they would view with the females who are left alone, children half starved; and some almost as naked as they came into the world. And it is a fact that I have seen them as much so–while the females are left without protection, and are seduced by white men, and are finally left to be common prostitutes for them, and to be destroyed by that burning, fiery curse, that has swept millions, both of red and white men, into the grave of sorrow and disgrace–Rum. (p. 645).

This liquid, rum, is the demise of the U.S. Indian–the elixir that dims the lights further sinking the Native American into what Seattle (2004) called the darkest of night for the Indian, introduced to them by none other than: The White Man!

Unlike Seattle (2004) and Apess (2004), who both realized the non-fixable, marginalized and oppressed state of the Native American within the United States, Boudinot (2004) was the Benedict Arnold of the Native Americans; he is known for having sold out his race by signing the Treaty of New Echota  in 1835 (Boudinot, 2004, p,. 651). This Native American wrote like the white elitist who had massacred his kind, yet Boudinot (2004) remained erroneously hopeful that the white man would see that the barbaric heathen was no longer. His goal was to change the heart of the white man by proving to him through his polished and formal structured writing that the Native American was reaching a level of competency commanding respect from all cultures, especially the white one. Boudinot (2004) professes:

The Government, though defective in many respects, is well suited to the condition of the inhabitants. As they rise in information and refinement, changes in it must follow, until they arrive at that state of advancement, when I trust they will be admitted into all the privileges of the American family. (p. 655)

Unfortunately, Boudinot (2004) was too much of an optimistic and not much of a realist. His people killed him for his treason; his people remain stereotyped, marginalized and oppressed in the 21st century.

Fast forward a few decades and into post modernism, and we find the Native American completely changed. The change has been just as Seattle (2004) envisioned at the turn of the century. The Native American tribes and cultures as he knew them in his youth no longer exist. They are in darkness, broken people with lots of laments. Echoing the words of African American poet, Maya Angelou, in her poem “I Still Rise,” you may say the Native American writers have done the same and are the voices of the past fallen People, the present and the future.

We now find Native Americans writing poetry to depict the history of the Native American as in Ortiz’s (2004) poem, “from Sand Creek.” This poem represents a memorial for those Native American “600 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho People, two-thirds of them women and children” (p. 2630)–people at peace and who had been assured that none would be harmed. “The People had been assured they would be protected by the flag” (p. 2631). Yet, “The reverend Colonel Chivington and his Volunteers and Fort Lyon Troops, numbering more than 700 heavily armed men, slaughtered 105 women and children and 28 men” (p. 2631). Ortiz brilliant works these statements into his poetry, illustrating the experimentation by post-modernist poets. He adds:

This America

has been a burden

of steel and mad

death,

but, look now,

there are flowers

and new grass

and a spring wind

rising

from Sand Creek.

Ortiz’s (2004) poem is but a sentence structure like a poem. What was once a compound sentence, following a straight line has been fragmented by the writer, broken up to obscure the true format–the two independent clauses. In analyzing, perhaps Ortiz meant to show the reader how what is on the surface is deceiving. One must look deeper to see the reality of what one is looking at: Is it a line of stanzas? Or is it just a compound sentence? Are the flower and new grass and spring wind that are rising from Sand Creek hiding a terrible past? What is really springing?

Some readers will find Harjo’s (2004) “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteen Floor Window,” equally disturbing. This is another post-modernist poem written by a Native American poet, this time describing the life of a Native American in modern times. The author writes:

She hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,

with a swirl of birds over her head. They could

be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.

She thinks she will be set free. (p. 2657)

This poem is written in paragraph style. This is once again painting a flare towards post-modernist strategy. The most poignant part of this poem, however, is the message of this obviously marginalized, oppressed and hopeless Native American woman living in a huge city–Chicago. She has many relatives, children and more. Yet, the last stanza says it all: She would rather die than live because she believes she will be released from her suffocating environment.

Whitecloud (2004) is another prolific Native American writer whose prose is full of effective imagery that provides the picture of the life of a Native American in post-modern times. This time, the narrative provides the reader with what it is like for a Native American to leave the compound of the reservation, to yearn the reservation and finally what it feels like to return.

His piece, “Blue Winds Dancing,” is a descriptive narrative. Whitecloud (2004) chooses his words to paint vivid imagery for the reader. His well-picked words and the way he juxtaposes the natural with the human is intriguing and refreshing at the same time. Whitecloud (2004) echoes the word “going home,” which hints at the conflict that drives the plot, the focus and purpose of this piece:

Moon and stars and clouds tipped with moonlight. And there is a fall wind blowing in my heart. Ever since this evening, when against a fading sky I saw geese wedge southward. They were going home…Now I try to study, to study, but against the pages I see them again, driving southward. Going home (p. 2111).

But, this piece is more about than just going home. It’s about finding one’s soul again–that’s what Whitecloud hints at in this piece. What he discovers when he returns home is what it truly means to be happy, alive and full of soul, something he had forgotten while living in the white man’s world. Whitecloud proclaims:

Strange, I think, and then remember. These people are not sharing words–they are sharing mood. Everyone is happy. I am so used to white people that it seems strange so many people could be together without someone talking. These Indians are happy because they are together, and because the night is beautiful outside, and the music is beautiful. (p. 2116)

In my own cultural sort of way, these words make me want to go camping in the great outdoors without my family since they would drown out Nature with their loud squeals. But, I do know what it is like to commune with people as those described above. Words cannot capture the essence of what is sensed or felt other than it feels real! It is as though we are all one, connected.

One more part of Whitecloud’s (2004) essay that captures the soul of the piece pertains to the oneness and connection the Native Americans feel when it comes to each other and a universal power that is so much greater than they are–a connection with God. Whitecloud (2004) continues,

I watch and see now that the old people are speaking to me. They nod slightly, imperceptibly, and their eyes laugh into mine. I look around the room. All the eyes are friendly; they all laugh. … I am happy. It is beautiful. I am home. (p. 2116)

The reader thinks, “I am happy. It is beautiful. I am home.” The author realizes that his people shine soul through their eyes. His people know how to connect and become one. The reader thinks, “Perhaps there is still hope. Perhaps through these beautiful Native American images, people can learn how to be quiet, be still, and shine soul through their eyes.” On the other hand, perhaps the opposite will be true. I’ll remain a realist.

Finally, the final but absolutely not the least of the Native American literature is not a speech nor a poem nor an essay; instead, it is a combination of all, wrapped up neatly in a novel called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, first published in 1993; its author: Sherman Alexie. In this novel, one of the themes found is about alcoholism. Showcasing his prolific and creative abilities as a Native American artist, Alexie provides descriptive images of particular situations. At the same time, he is able to highlight the seriousness of the disease that is claiming the life of his tribal members and has further destroyed reservation life. Most importantly, he is able to reveal the thought process involved as well as a rationale for this behavior clearly and in a way that any reader should be able to empathize for the decision taken by those Native Americans who succumb to this drinking disease. Alexie (2005) writes:

Victor was drunk again.

A night in the wooden-floor bar and she wanted to dance, but he wanted to drink and ease that tug in his throat and gut.

“Come on, you’ve had enough,” she said.

“Just one more beer, sweetheart, and then we’ll go home.”

It happened that way. He thought one more beer could save the world. One more beer and every chair would be comfortable. One more beer and the light bulb in the bathroom would never burn out. One more beer and he would love her forever. One more beer and he would sign any treaty for her. (p. 88)

A postmodernist, Alexie combines both prose and poetry, resulting in true prose and poetic justice.

As a reader, Seattle’s (2004) words and all of the words of the works analyzed resound within my being.  The Native American has suffered more than any other human being on the planet and yet most remain indifferent to this fact, choosing to remain blind to the true plight and reason behind the superficial appearances and behaviors. Delve deeper and you will see; then, and only then, will you understand.

 

Copyright 2013 by Hakes Publishing

References

Alexie, S. (2005). The long ranger and tonto fist fight in heaven. New York, NY: Grove Press.      pp. 1-242.

Apes, W. (2004). “An indian’s looking-glass for the white man.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath      Anthology of American Literature (pp. 645-650). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin            Company.

Blake, S. (2004). Late nineteenth century 1865-1910. In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 1338-1340). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Boudinot, E. (2004). “An address to the whites.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 651-658). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Harjo, J. (2004). “The woman hanging from the thirteenth floor.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 2657-2659). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Ortiz, S. (2004). “from sand creek.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 2630-2636). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Seattle (2004). “Speech of chief seattle.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 659-662). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Whitecloud, T. (2004). “Blue winds dancing.” In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 2111-2116). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wiget, A. (2004). Late nineteenth century 1865-1910. In P. Lauter (Ed.), The Heath Anthology of American Literature (pp. 14-45). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Filed under Cultural Perspectives, Fragmented Psyche, Native American Literature, Psychological Analysis of Literature, Reorganization of the Human Organism, World Literature