Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "Indian Killer"

I finished reading Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer several days ago. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I'll make an attempt at a review. In truth, I think that this book is even more difficult to review that Alexie's other book that I have read, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, and that one was a tough one to review.

The book is about a young man, John Smith. John is an Indian who was adopted shortly after his birth by a white couple. We do not know much about his childhood, but it was apparently a mostly happy one albeit with a good dose of cultural confusion thrown into the mix due to being a person of color with white parents.

This mostly happy child turns into an adult who is not only a recluse, but who also suffers from a mental illness. He pushes himself away from his white parents and comes to view all whites as the enemy. He eventually becomes a killer Indian, or Indian Killer.

But enough describing the plot itself.

The book is well written, though I found it disturbing. I personally would probably have not finished reading it if it were not a school assignment. (By contrast, I just talked to a classmate on the bus who said that she loved it.) I can't quite put my finger on what bothered me, but it probably has something to do with the character John Smith.

On the upside, the book does raise interesting questions about race and racism: Is it only racism if it is whites who are prejudiced against people of color, but not the other way around? Is it appropriate for white parents to adopt a child of another race? Are stereotypes about Indians really accurate, even if they are positive stereotypes, do they in fact hurt Indians? How much blood does a person need to be considered Indian? And what makes an Indian Indian?

I think the book answers each of these questions, but it answers those questions from many -- conflicting -- viewpoints. In the end, the reader has to decide for themselves what the answer(s) might be.

The plot itself is well thought out and well written. There are many different individuals who lives touch each other in the book, and who each come to the story with their own preconceptions about Indians. Marie, a Spokane Indian who is going to college and takes a Native American Literature class so that she can challenge her professor. Dr. Mather, her professor, a white who considers himself an Indian but who is actually pretty clueless. David, his student and Marie's classmate, who has never spoken to an Indian before and comes from a family who despises them. There's Reggie, a former student of Dr. Mather's and a cousin of Marie's, a Native American young man whose mother is Indian but whose father was determined to raise him pure white. And let's not forget Truck, a radio talk show host whose opinion is violently against Native Americans and who seizes on the murders of white men to stir up hatred against Indians.

Thrown together, these characters (and more!) make for a fascinating read and a plot you won't forget any time soon.

In conclusion, it is a good book, and I do recommend it if you want to explore what Native American identity is and face some tough questions. However, be forewarned, you should brace yourself. Hopefully you'll find it an enjoyable read like my classmate did. But you might find it more disturbing than enjoyable, as I did.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dreams and whatnot in "Indian Killer"

As I read Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie I used sticky notes to keep track of where dreams/visions occurred or were mentioned in the book.


However, I soon stopped keeping track of John's visions. Why? Because he's crazy. I certainly could examine his visions as I do the others in the book, but I'm not going to do that here.

Also, my writing here will be MESSY. Some of what I write here I've already thought about, some of it you'll see the thought process as it's happening and I won't bother to clean it up. It'll get cleaned up elsewhere.

"He had never remembered his dreams very well, but last night, he knew he had fought off a variety of faceless monsters. Then he had dreamed about the murders. To his surprise, Wilson had dreamed of David Rogers's face as a bullet passed through his brain, had seen the blood fountain from Justin Summers's belly, had heard the muffled cries of Mark Jones. Now Wilson's arms and legs felt sore" (227).

Wilson, the ex-cop and bad fiction writer is dreaming. He dreams about the monsters he used to face, as a cop, and then the current monster that he is trying to write about.

I'm really not sure what else to say about this particular dream.

"He often visited the owls in the Woodland Park Zoo, and they often came to visit him in his dreams.

In one recurring dream, Wilson is riding with his real parents in a big car. They are all quiet and content. Hank Williams on the radio. Wilson looks up at his father, who is driving and smoking a cigar. Wilson's father looks back and smiles around the cigar. It is a beautiful moment. Wilson's mother is humming along with the radio. She is small and pale, ethereal in the darkness of the car. Then the family looks ahead, headlights illuminating the dark road. Wilson's father inhales and exhales smoke. Suddenly, an owl floats directly in front of the car. Wilson's father has not time to hit the brakes. Wilson can only begin the first note of a scream when the owl crashes through the windshield. Wilson always wakes up at that moment in the dream"

Another dream for the ex-cop.

One noteworthy detail is that his mother "is small and pale", interesting since Wilson identifies himself as Indian. So, does he identify himself as half Indian, and half white? (Which obviously he isn't, but...)

And what's with the cigar? In the following paragraph it's revealed that Wilson's father never smoked. So why has he got a cigar here?

Could it be because to the Native Americans tobacco is sacred, and so Wilson has inserted his father using tobacco as a way to Native Americanize him? Of course, tobacco is supposed to only be used in ceremonial circumstances or while bonding with other males (unless I'm greatly mistaken), not when driving down the road with family. So either Wilson is clueless or something else is going on.

And then the owl. The owl is a symbol of death, and the killer leaves owl feathers as his signature. And here we see the owl being the cause of his parents' death. So is this dream emphasizing that this is what the owl means to Wilson?

Is the owl a symbol of death for all Native Americans? Or does it mean other things to certain tribes? What about the tribes mentioned in this book? What does it mean to them?

"Olivia thought back to John's nightmares. How the child often screamed himself awake. Night terrors, the doctor said, he'll grow out of them" (317).

More details are provided, but not what the nightmares are. Might these have been the early indications of his madness? Not that nightmares are a sign of madness (otherwise we'd all be mad!) but sometimes it would seem like he could see something that wasn't there.

Ok, I'm getting spooked. Moving on!

"He dreamed constantly about the murders. He saw the face of that man in Fremont when the knife slid across his throat, and felt the weight of that little boy's body. After those dreams, Wilson would lie awake for hours, staring at the walls" (337).

The second dream of this kind, I'd say this shows that Wilson is hyper-focusing and fixating on the murders. I'm not sure what else to say.

...other than that there's a bridge in downtown Portland that's called the Fremont Bridge and it's absolutely beautiful. But that's totally off topic! lol

"Still, he knew that Indians were supposed to listen carefully to their dreams. Aristotle Little Hawk had solved more than one crime by using information he had obtained in dreams. Wilson felt he'd been chosen for a special task. Maybe that was the reason for his dreams. People were dying horribly for reasons he alone understood, and he was the only one who could truly talk about the Indian Killer. Wilson knew that he was writing more than a novel. He would rite the book that would finally reveal tot he world what it truly meant to be Indian" (338).

How arrogant can you get? To think that he's the only person who can possibly understand horrible deaths, and that he'd be the one to reveal what it is to be Native American.

This gives us some insight to his character, and how he understands his dreams. Which is perhaps more valuable than the dreams themselves.

"Wilson was thinking about John Smith, then fell so quickly to sleep that he effortlessly slipped into a dream about Smith. He dreamed about Smith pushing that knife into the white man in the University District. He saw Smith slit the throat of the businessman. Then Smith was smiling as he lifted the young boy from his bed. Then Wilson saw himself with that knife. Wilson saw himself pushing the knife into one white body, then another, and another, until there were multitudes" ( 390-1).

The dream changes and continues, but I'm not going to type it out word for word. What happens: Wilson dreams that he himself becomes a victim (of a man with a brown hand, so apparently Indian), and is stuffed out of the way in a car. He hears sirens, but people are apparently oblivious to what's happening to him.

So what does it mean that Wilson dreams that he himself takes up the knife and kills people? I'm really not sure what to say.

What I do know is that John slips into Wilson's home and carries him off to the fortieth floor of the skyscraper being built. My guess is that Wilson is hit over the head in his sleep and that the change in his dream is John hitting him over the head.

"Because he said he dreamed about killing people" (394).

This is Dr. Mather saying repeating something that Reggie had (supposedly) told him before. Whether it's true or not, who knows. I think its accuracy can be called into doubt because Dr. Mather also says of Reggie "I always worried that Reggie was going to hurt somebody." I doubt this because I know the two of them had been close once.

Regardless, I figured I should mention this because it's mention of a dream.

And if it's true that Reggie would dream about killing... it could perhaps have something to do with his father, and how violent his father was to him as a child.

"John wondered if Wilson knew the difference between dreaming and reality. How one could easily become the other.

In his dreams, John saw his Indian mother standing on the porch as he drove away from the reservation. It was cold and rainy, as it would be on a day such as that. Or on another day, in another dream, his Indian mother on the delivery table, in all the blood, too much blood. She has died during his birth. An evil child, he destroyed his mother's life as she gave him his"

It's interesting that John thinks about "the difference between dreaming and reality" considering that the two become so confused in his own mind.

And then, for the first time, it is revealed what John dreams about at least some of the time.

He dreams about his birth mother. He'll dream about hurting his mother by leaving, presumably to go away to college (as that is a day dream of his -- growing up on the rez and then leaving his home for college). He also dreams about his birth killing his mother, which for all he knows could be the truth.

Either way, he's hurting his mother.

What's the purpose of this dream? Let's see...maybe...to show his state of mind? To show what he thinks of himself? "An evil child, he destroyed his mother's life as she gave him his." Is this what he thinks of himself?

Dreams and visions in "Indian Killer"

As I read Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie I used sticky notes to keep track of where dreams/visions occurred or were mentioned in the book.


However, I soon stopped keeping track of John's visions. Why? Because he's crazy. I certainly could examine his visions as I do the others in the book, but I'm not going to do that here.

Also, my writing here will be MESSY. Some of what I write here I've already thought about, some of it you'll see the thought process as it's happening and I won't bother to clean it up. It'll get cleaned up elsewhere.

"In that dream, a figure stood on the top floor of the last skyscraper in Seattle. It was dark in the dream, only a sliver of moon illuminating the building. The foreman approached the figure. With its back turned, the figure could have been a man or woman. The foreman was scared of the figure, but also very curious. The figure held an object in its hand. Something valuable, a gift for the foreman perhaps. The foreman stepped beside the figure, and both stared down at the street hundreds of feet below. Suddenly afraid of falling, the foreman woke with a sudden start and sat up in bed" (82).

The dreamer is the foreman who supervises John at work. I think we can safely assume that the figure in the dream is John.

We do know that John thinks of killing the foreman on the fortieth floor of the building. We also know that in the end of the book John takes Wilson to the fortieth floor. However, we don't know what floor they're on in this dream.

What is the significance of the skyscraper itself?

(Does the foreman have a name? I can't remember...)

And what's the figure (John) holding in his hand? The foreman thinks that it is important, and possible even a gift for him. We know that in the end of the book John has a knife that he cuts Wilson with. We also know that Wilson has a knife that he's killed (or will kill) others with. So, is there a significance to the thing in the figure's hand possibly being for the foreman, and being something special?

...so I've written a bunch of random (or not so random) stuff here but haven't really discussed how it contributes to the story! lol

I guess it's a foreshadowing, and it is something hinting to the foreman that he's on the right track. Which would be sort of a cliche, since later on in the book it is mentioned that Wilson uses dreams in his own (bad) Indian stories, and it is stated of Wilson that "he knew that Indians were supposed to listen carefully to their dreams. Aristotle Little Hawk had solved more than one crime by using information he had obtained in dreams" (338).

So, why does Alexie give the foreman a dream only to later make a point about how it's such a sad cliche for Native Americans to have dreams? Then again, the dream doesn't exactly help the foreman. It could be said that it's just an expression of what's already on the foreman's mind.

"A little after ten that night, he woke from a nightmare he could not remember, but he felt its residual effects, the sweat, racing heart, tensed muscles" (97).

I'm not sure what the significance of this unknown dream is, and all we know about it is the effects it had on John. It also reminded him of when he'd thought he was pregnant.

"That night, Olivia Smith dreamed: Father Duncan dipping baby John into the baptismal; four year old John heaving a basket-ball towards the hoop as Daniel laughs and claps his hands; Daniel kissing down her belly; John's naked body, bloody and brown, dumped on a snow plain. Olivia dreamed: a red tricycle; lightning illuminating a stranger standing at a window; pine trees on fire; an abandoned hound mournfully howling beside a country road. Olivia dreamed: John standing alone on the last skyscraper in Seattle as wind whips his hair across his face; Daniel holding her head under water at Lake Sammamish until she panics; the moon rising above the Space Needle; Father Duncan dipping the adult John into the baptismal" (220-1).

The dream(s?) begin and end with John being baptized by Father Duncan. However, he is a baby in the beginning and and adult in the end.

Ok, so the dream seems to be in three sections, and I'm gonna look at them separately first.

That night, Olivia Smith dreamed: Father Duncan dipping baby John into the baptismal; four year old John heaving a basket-ball towards the hoop as Daniel laughs and claps his hands; Daniel kissing down her belly; John's naked body, bloody and brown, dumped on a snow plain.

Here we've got good things. Mostly. We've got John as a baby being baptized, later playing ball with his father, Olivia's husband making love to her. But then, we have John's death.

One of these things is not like the others. Can you figure out which it is?

So what's up with John's death suddenly being in there? Is it a sign of how quickly John changed? We do know from later in the book that the change seemed very sudden to Olivia.

Also, John dies after she removed her attention from him to pay attention to her husband kissing her tummy. Does that mean that she was too busy paying attention to other things to notice the change happening in John?

Olivia dreamed: a red tricycle; lightning illuminating a stranger standing at a window; pine trees on fire; an abandoned hound mournfully howling beside a country road.

First we have something we might associate with childhood innocence and fun: a tricycle. However, it's red, which although a typical color is also the color of blood. And after that we have scary images.

What's their point? Maybe the stranger is her changed son, the tree is...something scary...and the hound is showing how she feels?

Olivia dreamed: John standing alone on the last skyscraper in Seattle as wind whips his hair across his face; Daniel holding her head under water at Lake Sammamish until she panics; the moon rising above the Space Needle; Father Duncan dipping the adult John into the baptismal

John at work, her husband playing and taking things too far, a serene image, and John being baptized as an adult.

This section beings and ends with John.

But why is John being baptized as an adult? He was already baptized as a baby. Maybe it's showing that he's a new person, and the individual he used to be no longer exists?

And why is the water thing there? We know that John later sees whites as flames. So was her whiteness being removed, by the flame being smothered under water? Was this an event that even actually took place?

And the space needle. What about that? Well, it's really tall, tall as a skyscraper, which is what John works on building. But I don't think the Space Needle is mentioned anywhere else in the book (or is it?) so I don't know what it's doing...

"Daniel dreamed: his secretary leaning over his desk with papers to sign; the Bainbridge Island ferry crossing rough waters. Daniel dreamed: young John running across a field; a stranger hammering nails into a joist. Daniel dreamed: a red truck breaking through a guardrail; a pistol firing. Daniel dreamed: a man screaming; John standing over the bed" (221).

Again it's in sections, but not the way Olivia's dream was. They're more, and shorter. Much shorter. So short and so many that I'm not gonna separate them.

Here Daniel dreams of work, his child, and then "a stranger hammering nails into a joist." The stranger is probably John as an adult in his job making skyscrapers. And it's showing that John is now a stranger. Immediately following is "a red truck breaking through a guardrail; a pistol firing." We have the color red again (his wife had dreamed about a red tricycle on the previous page) this time the color belongs to a vehicle that's in trouble. And then there's the gun, which indicates violence. Hmm...and then there's screaming. And then, hold on, John is in his bedroom, standing over him.

Well, I think it's safe to say that John was actually there. Daniel and Olivia both smell him (which I think is sort of weird) and then Olivia finds that someone has had a snack of roast. She assumes it's her husband, but why can't it be their son? We already know that he comes and stands outside their house at night sometimes. Why wouldn't he sneak in for a snack, and even go up to their room?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Indian Killer"

I finished reading Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer last night.

As pointed out in the book, "Indian Killer" would mean someone who kills Indians. So, I think we can conclude that the book isn't about a killer Indian (even though it is), but about Indians being killed.

So, who is the Indian Killer in the book? Is it the whites who are trying to become Indians themselves? Is it the killer Indian who is killing whites and turning people against Indians? (It's true that he is the one dubbed "Indian Killer" in the newspapers.) Or is it the Indian who stirs up controversy between Indians and whites whenever she can?

Something to ponder.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flip sides of the coin

The good thing about being an English major: I have to read what the professor wants me to. This is generally pretty good because I am exposed to literature that I otherwise wouldn't have picked up, and this is generally an awesome experience.

The bad thing about being an English major: I have to read what the professor wants me to. Right now I'm thinking this is bad because of the book I'm currently reading.

I am currently reading Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad book. But it's rather unsettling and leaves me depressed. If it weren't a school book I highly doubt that I would finish it.

This isn't the first time I've read Alexie's books. I've read a poem and short story of his in my current English class, and I read a novel of his last summer that I loved. But Indian Killer is so different from everything else of his I've read.

Obviously Alexie is a very flexible writer and can write in many different flavors! I just happen to have found a flavor here that doesn't agree with me. Perhaps when I'm through with Indian Killer I'll read his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to recover. Because as I said, Indian Killer is very unsettling.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Visions in "Love Medicine"

Again I am examining dreams and visions, this time in Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. There are thingies that I'm not sure if they qualify as dreams/visions, but right here I'll focus on those that I'm not debating.

I won't be explaining the excerpts as I go, so unless you've already read this you probably won't follow me.

I've got the 2009 edition of Love Medicine.


Oh yes, and I could also write about the visions of ghosts, but it's late at night and call me superstitious but I'll get spooked if I write about those visions right now. So that narrows it all down to four visions that I'll be writing about! Two for Marie, two for Nector.

"I was about to throw that cornmeal mush out to the birds and make a run for it, when the vision rose up blazing in my mind.

I was rippling gold. My breasts were bare and my nipples flashed and winked. Diamonds tipped them. I could walk through panes of glass. I could walk through windows. She was at my feet, swallowing the glass after each step I took. I broke through another and another. The glass she swallowed ground and cut until her starved insides were only a subtle dust. She coughed. She coughed a cloud of dust. And then she was only a black rag that flapped off, snagged in bobwire, hung there for an age, and finally rotted into the breeze"

Marie has already been abused by Leopolda, and here she's seeing herself overcome Leopolda. Marie is becoming something magnificent, something amazing enough to rival a saint (which is what she intends to become). Not only is she made of gold with her breasts tipped in diamonds, she is able to walk through glass and break it without being hurt. Instead it is Leopolda who is injured, and is ultimately vanquished.

So basically: the the 14 year old girl (she's 14, right?) sees herself becoming perfection itself, and invincible, while her enemy is trodden down.

But Leopolda is not directly injured by Marie. She's hurt by the glass that Marie steps through, she swallows it. What does this mean? That Marie will not harm Leopolda directly (although later she does try to push Leopolda into the hot oven!) but that Leopolda will inevitably be hurt by Marie's triumphs?

It almost seems that Leopolda is not worth Marie's concern, since Leopolda is only hurt by Marie's steps, and even at that because she swallows the glass. (Why does she swallow it?) And yet Marie does continue to concern herself with Leopolda. Or maybe she just takes a while to realize that Leopolda isn't worth her time. She does soon enough leave the convent, and doesn't return for at least 20 years. But in the end she does return when Leopolda is dying, and she returns because she wants to confront Leopolda. Why? To show Leopolda what she has become.

Maybe she forgot that Leopolda is not worth her time?

Or maybe I'm trying to fit the story to a (wrong) particular interpretation.

"Everything stopped moving around me. The walls held. I saw tiny lights of spirits enter, and although they flickered all around the edges of the room, I was not afraid. The circles of silvery ghost lights fastened my pain and dragged it through the outer walls. Instead of dying, I sat up. Fleur was there" (99-100).

We have Marie again, this time giving birth. It might be assumed that she is hallucinating because of the pain, but let's assume that she really is having a vision.

So, we've got spirits and "ghost lights" floating around. We already know that Marie is very spiritual, so it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that they show up, and/or that she can see them.

The ghost lights...maybe they are guardians of death (after all, "ghost lights") who are there to either take her away or bar the way? It seems that they're there to bar the way because they take her pain away from her, and "instead of dying" Marie finds the strength to sit up. That's also the precise moment when Fleur shows up. We don't know too much about Fleur, but we do know that she's some sort of medicine woman. So perhaps the spirits are preceding her? Perhaps they're there to help Fleur help Marie, rather than showing up just for Marie.

The birth is also a sort of bonding between Marie and Rushes Bear. Does the vision have anything to do with that?

"That is the state of mind I was in when I began to think of Lulu. The truth is I had never gotten over her. I thought back to how swiftly we had been moving toward each other's soft embrace before everything got tangled and swept me on past. In my mind's eye I saw her arms stretched out in longing while I shrank into the blue distance of marriage. Although it had happened with no effort on my part, to ever get back I'd have to swim against the movement of time" (124).

I'm counting this as a vision because Nector saw things with a strange clarity during that moment, and "the fact is when I got up from the front steps I was changed" (124).

Here Nector sees himself as a young man and remembers courting Lulu. Things are mostly muddled, and he doesn't even know how he wound up with Marie rather than Lulu. And not even because Lulu scorned him! He could have had Lulu, but on that fateful day when Marie left the convent something happened that he couldn't understand.

Ever since Marie, he's been pretty muddled. Marie has been in charge of things, and Nector pretty much just goes along. But here he's able to see clearly, and what's the result? He has a fling with Lulu, without even looking for it.

Hmm, so like Marie just happened to him, Lulu just happens to him. But only after his "vision."

"I see Marie standing in the bush. She is fourteen and slim again. I can do nothing but stare, rooted to the ground. She stands tall, straight and stern as an angel. She watches me. Red flames from the burning house glare and flicker in her eyes. Her skin sheds light. We are face to face, and then she begins to lift on waves of heat. Her breast is a glowing shield. Her arm is a white-hot spear. When she raises it, the bush behind her spreads, blazing open like wings.

I go down on my knees, a man of rags and tinder. I am ready to be burned in the fire, too, but she reaches down and lifts me up.

'Daddy,' she says, 'Let's get out of here. Let's go' "

Nector sees Marie at the same age when he realized that she was a woman and fell in love (?) with her. She is not exactly as described in the vision Marie had of herself, but regardless is spectacular. He compares her to an angel, and "Her breast is a glowing shield." (Sort of sad that he noticed her breasts since this is actually his daughter!) She has come to him after he has left her and then inadvertently set on fire the house of the woman he left her for.

Also notice "the bush behind her spreads, blazing open like wings." This puts me in mind of the burning bush in the Bible that Moses encounters. So, might we compare this to the Moses story? Well, she's already been compared to a heavenly being. Let's see...

Maybe she's laying down the law, which is that he needs to go back to his wife who he strayed from? Somewhat like the Jews needing to turn back to YHWH, who they turned from?

Except, then it is his daughter. I'm not sure what to make of that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Silko quotes

There were a few quotes whose places I noted and now I'm going back to find them. From Leslie Silko's Ceremony.

"They are afraid, Tayo. They feel something happening, they can see something happening around them, and it scares them. Indians or Mexicans or whites -- most people are afraid of change. They think that if their children have the same color of skin, the same color of eyes, that nothing is changing ... They are fools. They blame us, the ones who look different. That way they don't have to think about what has happened inside themselves" (99-100.)

I wonder if Silko was drawing on personal experience when she wrote this. After all, she has white, Native American, and Mexican heritage.

"They only fool themselves when they think it is theirs. The deeds and papers don't mean anything. It is the people who belong to the mountain" (128.)

Ok, so I latched onto this because I totally agree.

"These goddamn Indians got to learn whose property this is!" (202)

Oh is that so?

"It seems like I already heard these stories before . . . only thing is, the names sound different" (260.)

An indication of the cyclical nature of time? History repeats itself! The same things happen time and time again, although the places and names may be different.

accept this offering,

On the final page. Maybe I should go through the book and find all the mentions of sunrises and examine them the way I did dreams in my last post.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Of dreams and visions

As I've mentioned before, I'm very interested in how dreams are used to tell stories. What I didn't mention is that I'm also interested in how visions are used in stories.

Today I went through Ceremony by Leslie Silko to find all the places where there is a dream or vision. I only took about an hour and a half for the whole thing, and there could be one or two dreams/visions that I missed, but I've got most if not all of them. So now I get to sort them out! Which is what I'm doing here.

And I'm not gonna explain details of the story, so you'll probably get lost if you haven't already read Ceremony.

Also, I'm thinking this out as I type for the most part, so don't expect me to be writing essay quality stuff. I'm sort of just writing notes for myself and figure that I may as well put them on my blog. Who knows, maybe I have a follower who's read Ceremony and who has ideas about what some of these dreams mean! If so, I'd love to hear. :)


"...calling up humid dreams of black night and loud voices rolling over him and over again like debris caught in a flood. Tonight the singing had come first, squeaking out of the iron bed, a man singing in Spanish, the melody of a familiar love song, two words again and again, 'Y volvere.' Sometimes the Japanese voices came first..." (5-6.)

I'm not going to write out the whole thing.

This dream moves chaotically from one thing to another. From his time in Japan, the man singing Spanish (which I can't fit in with the rest of the story...), to his uncle Josiah, words from the Laguna language, a bar...so many random things.

Maybe on further inspection this dream will hold even more significance, but I think it shows his confused state of mind. And it's right in the beginning of the story so it helps to set things up.

What does the man singing Spanish have to do with anything? Or is it just in there to provide randomness?

"...in that instant he saw Josiah standing there; the face was dark from the sun, the eyes were squinting as though he were about to smile at Tayo. So Tayo stood there, stiff with nausea, while they fired at hte soldiers, and he watched his uncle fall, and he knew it was Josiah; and even after Rocky started shaking him by the shoulders and telling him to stop crying, it was still Josiah lying there" (7-8.)

This is a vision Tayo has while serving in WWII. When he is ordered to execute Japanese soldiers he can't because he sees his beloved uncle Josiah among them.

He doesn't understand it at the time, and is convinced that it was his uncle there even though he knows his uncle is on another continent entirely on their rez. Later in the book (I don't feel like hunting the place down right this minute though) he comes to understand that he saw his uncle because of how the whole world is interconnected. So yes, his uncle was there, even though his uncle wasn't.

So if his uncle was there (even though he really wasn't) was Tayo somehow responsible for not preventing his death? Hmm...

"...visions and memories of the past did not penetrate there..." (15.)

I was sure this also mentioned dreams! Oh well, visions are mentioned anyways.

This takes place in the Veteran's Hospital, which is a place so alien to Tayo that he cannot recover there. (Actually, an entire essay could probably be written about Tayo's relationship with the place.) The fact that he cannot have any visions (or memories) is an indicated of how foreign the place is to him, and the fact that he needs to get out of there.

"He woke up crying. He had dreamed Josiah had been hugging him close the way he had when Tayo was a child, and in the dream he smelled Josiah's smell -- horses, woodsmoke, and sweat -- the smell he had forgotten until the dream; and he was overcome with all the love there was" (32.)

Here he's remembering his dead uncle, and is revisiting the past. I guess the significance of this dream is that it shows how much he loved Josiah, and is showing how he viewed Josiah and what he loved about him.

"It was a warm night; he lay down int he old hay and he slept all night without dreams" (105.)

Yes, I figure it's worth noting when it's noted that he doesn't dream. After all, maybe a lack of dreams are as important as the dreams that are mentioned? That's my theory, anyways.

Tayo has been visiting places that hold memories for him, and he's learning to come to peace with things. Or anyways, he's beginning to learn. The lack of dreams is, I think, an indication that he's calming down.

"He dreamed about the speckled cattle. They had seen him and they were scattering between juniper trees, through tall yellow grass, below the mesas near the dripping spring. Some of them had spotted calves who ran behind them, their bony rumps flashing white and disappearing into the trees. He tried to run after them, but it was no use without a horse. They were gone, running southwest again, toward the high, lone-standing mesa the people called Pa'to'ch" (145.)

Josiah bought the cattle with his life savings (or with a lot of his savings, anyways) and I think that taking care of them is a way for Tayo to honor Josiah's memory. Tayo has this dream after a ceremony that Betonie performs for him, so I think that the dream is to show Tayo what he needs to do to complete the ceremony.

(And what is the ceremony anyways? Must figure this out!)

I'm not sure what the significance of the place Pa'to'ch is. Maybe it's named later in the book...I'm bad with names so it could be a significant place and I just never caught the name! Hmm...

"He dreamed about the cattle that night. It was a continuous dream that was not interrupted even when she reached out for him again and pulled him on top of her. He went on dreaming while he moved inside her, and when he heard her whisper, he saw them scatter over the crest of a round bare hill, running away from him, scattering out around him like ripples in still water" (181.)

Here we see the dream getting mixed together with what's going on in the physical world. It is his first night with Ts'eh, and I think that the fact that she's getting mixed up with his dream is an indication that she is part of finding the cattle, and part of the ceremony Tayo needs to complete.

"The spotted cattle wouldn't be lost any more, scattered through his dreams..." (192.)

Tayo is gathering up the cattle, reclaiming them from the white man who stole them, and the fact that this will have an impact on his dreams shows that life has an affect on dreams.

So, once he gathers them up he'll stop dreaming about them being lost.

"He dreamed with her, dreams that lasted all night, dreams full of warm deep caressing and lingering desire which left him sleeping peacefully until dawn, when he would wake up at the first dim light with her presence and the feeling that she had been with him all night" (215.)

First of all, "He dreamed WITH her..." So was she participating in the dreams? Were they sharing a dream? That's what it seems like. And why not? Ts'eh is some sort of medicine person, and that seems like a medicine person thing.

Also, notice that his dream is taken up with her. Not with the cattle, who have by this point been retrieved. She's part of the ceremony, or else she's helping him find his way in the ceremony, so she's part of his life. Or maybe she is his life.

"He was dreaming of her arms around him strong, when the rain on the tin roof woke him up. But the feeling he had, the love he felt for her, remained" (217.)

Ditto. Oh, and the peace he feels with her is remaining in his waking hours!

"He dreamed he made love with her there. He felt the warm sand on his toes and knees; he felt her body, and it was as warm as the sand, and he couldn't feel where her body ended and the sand began" (222.)

Hmm, comparing her to the earth...is she a form of the mother who gave life to everything? Is Ts'eh a representation of the goddess? I won't suggest that she is a/the goddess because I don't think she is. Then again...is she?

"He woke up choking on humid jungle air, but when he pushed back the bnlanket he was in the cave, and it was his own sweat and heavy breathing that made the air seem damp" (235.)

Here she's left Tayo, and he has regressed somewhat. The fact that he thinks he's back in the Philippines might qualify as a vision/dream, so I added to the list.

"He dreamed with his eyes open that he was wrapped in a blanket in the back of Josiah's wagon, crossing the sandy flat below Paguate Hill. The cholla and juniper shivered in the wind, and the rumps of the two gray mules were twin moons in front of him. Josiah was driving the wagon, old Grandma was holding him, and Rocky whispered 'my brother.' They were taking him home" (254.)

He's returning home, to where he was before WWII. True, Josiah and Rocky are dead, but he hasn't really lost them. They're still there. That isn't said outright in the book, but my understanding is that if he can dream about them then he really hasn't lost them. And his grandmother is still alive.

Josiah, Rocky, and Grandma were the three people who he loved the most before WWII. They still are, although I think that their number has been expanded to include Ts'eh. There's no way I'm going to try to bump any of those three out of "most loved people" to try to fit her in.''

Hey, in a lot of stories three is the magic number, but I know that for some Native American cultures it's four. So is four the magic number here? I don't know. I don't know enough about Navajo to know.

And I think that Ts'eh isn't in the dream because if he's going back to where he was before WWII, that wouldn't include her, because he didn't know her then.

And could it also be that she was part of the ceremony, and now that it is complete she has moved on and he will never see her again? That might also be why she's not in this dream.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ransom story

I finished The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney today. I didn't find any more dreams in it to examine, although dreams were mentioned elsewhere: characters talked of dreaming about ransom or other things. Mostly ransom.

I do want to share a small excerpt from page 172. It might be considered a minor spoiler, and it really just shows how Mercy is acclimating to life among her Native American captors and how her worldview changes.

"...suddenly Mercy knew the Lord to be all things and all languages: Mohawk. French. English. Latin. The Lord did not mind what name Mercy used, as long as she used it well. She did not think He cared whether she answered to Marie, or to Munnonock, or to Daughter. He cared if she kept the commandments."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


An interest of mine is how dreams are used in stories. I think I'm actually going to write a ten page paper on the subject for my English class this term!

This evening I picked up The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney. It's a captive narrative about a girl named Mercy who is taken by Native Americans. Many of her friends as her family are also taken, but Mercy is the focus of the story. It's a pretty quick read -- I've been reading less than two hours and I'm on page 90 of 244.

So far there have been two dreams. The first is on page 8:

"Fingers grabbed Mercy's hair, twisting the thick yellow braid and yanking it tight. Her neck stretched and she could get no air. The scalping knife would --"

Mercy wakes up from this nightmare to find that her town is under attack by Native Americans.

So, what does this dream do for the story?

1) The first sentence of the paragraph following the nightmare is "All too familiar with the nightmare, Mercy suffocated her scream and hugged herself hard to keep from making a noise." So we know that this is a recurring nightmare, and that Mercy often thinks about being killed by the "savages" and is afraid of it. It even haunts her dreams. So one thing this dream does is show us that she would expect Native Americans to kill her, not take her captive, and it shows that they are on her thoughts even when she is asleep.

2) It sets the stage for the attack. Just minutes after she wakes Mercy realizes that the Native Americans are inside the walls of her town.

The next dream is on page 48, and it takes place after she has been taken captive and has had to march some distance.

"And yet her dreams, when they came, were sun-gilt and sparkly, as if the day had been made of crystal instead of blood. In her dream, it was October, and the leaves were gold. She gave a leaf to Marah, and Marah smiled."

Now, before I discuss this dream...


1) In this dream Mercy thinks of better times. She thinks of a time when the weather was good instead of snowing, and when she did not have to watch people she love be killed. Marah is her little sister, and unfortunately was very whiny. Because of this she was killed. So Mercy is reliving better times in her sleep.

2) Might the time of year in the dream be significant? In the story it is the middle of winter, but in the dream it is autumn "and the leaves were gold." Winter is when things are dead, but autumn is when the things are dying. So since her memory is taking place in a time of dying could it mean that her memory of home is dying? Since I've read the book before (years ago, but still) I already know that yes, Mercy does become a Native American and her memories of her old home fade, even if they don't completely die. In fact, in the end, she chooses to stay with the Native Americans who adopt her rather than return to where her home once was. So yes, I think this dream indicates that her memories and/or attachments to her old life are already dying.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Family dynamics

So, another post about Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony.

I'm only about halfway through it (and if my professor is reading this I would like to assure him that I will have the book finished by our next class, I promise!) and I've noticed some interesting family dynamics. Specifically, family dynamics between Tayo, Rocky, and Auntie.


First, you've got to realize that this is a Native American story. Second, I've got to explain the characters.

Tayo -- His mother was Auntie's younger sister. We don't know too much about her (at least not yet) but we do know that she apparently slept around with quite a few men, and that Tayo's father is white. So, Tayo is a "half breed". And yes, those words do get used. By Tayo himself, unless I'm greatly mistaken. Of course, there's so much more to Tayo than his parentage, but Auntie doesn't seem to realize that.

Auntie -- Tayo's aunt, who raised him since her younger sister dumped him on her doorstep when he was just four years old. She doesn't approve of Tayo because of the shame his mother caused the family (or at any rate, that caused her) by having a child by a white man.

Rocky -- Auntie's son, and Tayo's cousin. He's pure blood Native American, and yet he is less Native American than Tayo. He wants to be a white man: his plans as a high school student were to leave the reservation, and he had no plans to return. He abandons old customs that Tayo holds to, as seen when they kill a deer: Tayo covers the head of the carcass with his coat to show respect, and Rocky, even though he knows this is the tradition, asks Tayo what he's doing.

So we've got Tayo, who Auntie despises because his father is white, even though Tayo is 100% Native American so far as I can tell. And Rocky, who is pure blood Native American, and who Auntie loves, and yet he's the one who's trying to join the white man's world.

It seems to me that Auntie just just punishing Tayo because she disapproved of his mother, because the above doesn't make sense. Not that it isn't believable -- people often don't make sense, and even though Auntie is acting illogically she seems very real.

Reading between the lines

"Anyone can fight for America, . . . even you boys. In a time of need, anyone can fight for her. . . . . Now I know you boys love America as much as we do, but this is your big chance to show it!"

The above can be found on page 64 of Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony. It's probably obvious that this is being said by an army recruiter. What isn't obvious if you don't know the context is that he is speaking to two Native American young men.

So, now that we know the context let's take a close look at the wording.

"Anyone can fight for America, . . . even you boys." Translation: "You aren't real Americans, but we'll let you fight and die for us."

Oh, yes, and about the word boys -- that was a word used for black men to belittle them. I don't know if it has ever been used in the same way for Native American men, but its use here seems at least a little condescending to me.

"Now I know you boys [there's that word again!] love America as much as we do, but this is your big chance to show it!" Translation: "I'm going to subtly emphasize here that you aren't really a fellow American, but that you should love American as much as I do."

So tell me, do you think I'm just being too cynical here or am I on to something?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jane, Fairfax, and other names

I started reading Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

It sort of just happened. I didn't say "Oh I want to read this" and then picked it up from my library. I was looking at Goodreads on my iPhone and it turns out that I can read the book on Goodreads. So, I just sort of started it.

I've noticed some interesting connections between it and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Emma.


In Emma you have the character Jane Fairfax. She has been orphaned and was brought up by a well to do friend of her father. Although her father's friend is better off in life than she is Jane is brought up as one of his own -- that is, even though she will not be able to aspire to be anything more than a governess she is brought along to fancy occasions and other fun events as an equal, rather than as the servant that she will one day be.

Fortunately for Jane Fairfax, she manages to catch the eye of a young man who is the equal to her father's friend and so she is able to marry into the sphere of life that she has been raised in. This means that she does not have to live life as a servant, but as a lady who is waited on by servants.

Early on in Jane Eyre I noticed some connections between the two Janes. 1) Jane Eyre was orphaned at a young age and a friend of her father took her on as his own. (Although he dies and his wife neglects Jane.) 2) Jane Eyre will become a governess, and in fact she does become a governess.

I also know that Jane Eyre will marry someone above her status, which brings to mind Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. To tell the truth I'm expecting to meet another Mr. Darcy, though I know that probably won't be the case. (I haven't met the guy yet, in case you haven't guessed!)

I'm not adding the marrying above her status to the list of similarities between the two Janes, though, because so far as I know Jane Eyre is not actually a gentleman's daughter (although there have been some interesting hints that she might be) and we know that Jane Fairfax definitely was the daughter of a gentleman.

And then as I was reading the book I discovered a Mrs. Fairfax! Imagine my surprise.

We have a Jane, and a Mrs. Fairfax, in Jane Eyre.

Is Jane Eyre an example of what Jane Fairfax might have become if XXX had happened? (I'm not filling in what the XXX is yet since I'm only 23.6% though the book, according to Goodreads.) And is Mrs. Fairfax an example of what Jane Fairfax might have become if she hadn't married a gentleman?

Mrs. Fairfax is a housekeeper. So she's a higher ranking servant, but still a servant.

Interesting interesting. We shall see how this plays out. :)

And FYI, Brontë was born one year before Austen died. So Jane Eyre definitely came after Jane Austen's books, and it's my guess that Brontë was influenced by Austen.


a book turned into something else (11) adult (67) Alaya Dawn Johnson (2) Andre Norton (1) Andy MacDonald (1) Angie Sage (5) Anita Diamant (3) Anne McCaffrey (3) Aric McKeown (2) art (2) audio book (10) Avi (1) banned / challenged books (7) Bible (8) Bill Amend (1) Bill Martin Jr. (1) Bill Wisher (1) book mending (1) book review (23) book signings (1) Brendan Fraser (1) Brian Jacques (7) C.S. Lewis (3) captive narrative (2) Caroline B. Cooney (2) Catherine Murdock (1) Charles Dickens (1) Charles Vess (4) Charlotte Brontë (1) chart / diagram / whatever (3) Cheryl Schwartz (1) children's lit (1) Chris Speyer (2) Christopher Paolini (27) classism (2) comedy (1) comedy (drama) (2) comics (4) Cornelia Funke (6) correcting myself (1) cover art (7) Cynthia Kadohata (2) D.H. Lawrence (1) Dan Brown (1) Daniel L. Schacter (2) Daniel Loxton (1) Daniel M. Wegner (2) Daniel T. Gilbert (2) David Abram (3) David C. Cook (1) David Levithan (1) Debora Geary (1) Diana Hacker (1) Doug Mauss (3) Douglas Adams (2) Dr. Seuss (1) dragons (3) drama (10) dreams (6) dreams / visions (7) dystopian (1) E.M. Forster (1) early books / book binding / book history / etc. (1) Emily Dickinson (1) environment (1) Eoin Colfer (10) Eric Carle (1) Ernest Hemingway (2) essay (4) Esther M. Friesner (1) fairy tale retold (1) fan art (7) fantasy (126) fantasy -- historical (2) fantasy -- urban (4) fiction (46) fiction -- historical (1) Frank Herbert (4) Fritz Klein (1) G. B. Trudeau (1) gaming (1) Gardner Dozois (4) Garth Nix (8) gender roles (2) Geoff Dyer (2) George Orwell (1) Geronimo Stilton (1) graphic novel (13) H. G. Wells (2) Hank Green (1) Harper Lee (1) Herman Melville (2) historical fantasy (7) historical fiction (29) Hollis Shiloh (1) horror (2) Hugo Petrus (1) humor (2) inconsistencies (4) it ain't real syndrome (2) J. Jacques (1) J. K. Rowling (9) J.D. Salinger (1) J.R.R. Tolkien (8) Jack Dann (4) Jack London (1) James Clavell (7) James Hutchings (1) Jane Austen (15) Jaroslav Pelikan (1) Jean Cassels (1) Jeanne DePrau (1) Jeff Smith (7) Jen Delyth (1) Jenny Erpenbeck (2) Jim Butcher (12) Jim Smiley (1) Joanne Bertin (1) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1) John Green (8) John R. Erickson (4) John William Waterhouse (1) Jonathan Stroud (3) Juliet Marillier (13) just me rambling (2) juvenile lit (17) K.A. Applegate (2) Kage Baker (1) Kelly McCullough (2) kids literature (2) Kirby Larson (1) Kristen Britain (8) L.M. Montgomery (1) Lem Pew (2) Leo Tolstoy (1) Leslie Silko (4) LGBTQIA (9) LHoD (32) Llewellyn (1) Louise Erdrich (3) made me cry (2) magic (8) manga (1) Marion Zimmer Bradley (1) Mark Twain (1) Mary E. Pearson (1) Mary Nethery (1) masks (1) Meg Cabot (3) memoir (2) Mercedes Lackey (2) Michael Walters (1) movies (13) music / video (7) music / youtube (12) my crushes on fictional characters (7) my predictions (14) mystery (2) mythology (1) names (3) Nancy Butler (1) Nancy Resnick (1) Naomi Novik (2) narrator review (2) Nathaniel Hawthorne (2) Nathaniel Parker (1) Native American (9) natural disasters (1) nature / wildlife (1) non fiction (24) Nora Roberts (1) Northrop Frye (2) notes (6) Octavia E. Butler (1) Pam Jenoff (1) Pamela Frierson (7) Paul M. Kramer (1) Peggy V. Beck (1) Peter S. Beagle (1) pets / animals (4) Philip Pullman (2) poetry (10) questions (16) Rachel Pollack (1) racism (9) Randa Abdel-Fattah (2) Randall Frakes (2) Ray Bradbury (2) reading challenges (12) reading list (3) Rebecca Z Shafir (2) reference book (1) religion / spirituality (11) religion / spirituality / mythology (15) Rick Riordan (8) Robert A. Heinlein (4) Robert Frost (1) Robert M. Pirsig (2) romance (13) Ruth S. Noel (1) Sappho (1) Sarah Darer Littman (3) science fantasy (5) science fiction (66) Sergio Cariello (3) Seth Grahame-Smith (1) sexism (1) sexual violence (2) Shakespeare (13) Sharon Olds (1) Shaun Hutson (1) Sherman Alexie (9) Shirley Jackson (1) short story (5) signed book (1) six word novels (1) Stephenie Meyer (12) Susan Cooper (1) Susan Fletcher (1) Suzanne Collins (1) Tamora Pierce (44) Taylor Mali (1) Terminator (9) Terry Pratchet (3) textbooks (1) Thanhha Lai (1) Tim Curry (1) Tim Hamilton (1) Tom Fischbach (1) totally random (1) tragedy (drama) (5) translated literature (8) Trudi Canavan (1) urban fantasy (9) Ursula K. le Guin (47) vampires (2) Vanessa Sorensen (1) Victor Hugo (1) Virtual Read-Out (2) visions (3) werewolves (3) what I'm reading (9) what's on my nightstand (1) writing to an author (1) written for school (8) Yevgeny Zamyatin (3) young adult (61) Zack Whedon (1)