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Native Narratives and the American Short Story

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Native Narratives and the American Short Story

1. Contextualization: Native narratives are deeply intertwined with the heritage of each tribe. Native narratives are based almost completely on tribal experiences and therefore variance can occur in the explanation of the beginning of time and with their first experiences with Europeans, which first began in 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. Tribes as mentioned earlier all have different interpretations on how they came to their settlements and how they were created as seen in the Winnebago story This Newly Created World, while the Pima tell of their original arrival to the Americas in their Emergence Song, and the Zuni nation describes their origins of being in Talk Concerning the First Beginning. These stories would have been told orally usually through song and in some cases accompanied by a dance. These three stories have no exact date of origin due to the nature of oral stories being hard to date; however, they can be traced beyond several hundred years ago.

Other stories that deal with the experiences of the various tribes or understanding of how nature works are: Changing Woman and the Hero Twins after the Emergence of the People by the Navajo nation c. 1600, The Coming of the Spanish and the Pueblo Revolt by the Hopi Nation c. 1936, Iroquois or Confederacy of the Five Nations by the Iroquois nation c. 1600, Raven and Marriage a Tlingit nation story, and Raven Makes a Girl Sick an Then Cures Her by the Tsimshian nation c. 1600.

It is also important to notice that many teachings were administered through the careful telling of such stories as Raven and Marriage, in which the raven is a trickster figure which plays many rolls in the story such as a trouble maker but also as character to progress the through the plot. What needs to be stressed is the ability of this character to demonstrate important life lessons simply through his roll in an orally told short story.

2. Salient Points: Native narratives are deeply rooted in experience, specifically a tribes experience with nature, the individuals within the tribe and their societal behavior, and what constitutes good and evil. In the creation stories such as the Pima Emergence Song, the Pima describe coming to a white land in song and dance. Meanwhile the Zuni story Talk Concerning the First Beginning they do not believe they traveled from distant lands, but rather, that they traveled to their settlement over a vast amount of time. Over this stretch of time they began transforming from within the womb of mother earth (being originally made from earth) until they migrated and reached their land, which they consider the center of the world. Upon reaching this destination in these people now resembled themselves. As seen from just these two creation stories in just two separate tribes one thing is fundamentally similar; the Natives were inherently attached to the land in which they settled because it provides them their way of life.

These immigrants which are thought to have traveled across the Bering Strait via a land bridge between 30-40 thousand years ago can be attributed to the "discovery" of the Americas and the settlement of such lands. The land proved to provide these peoples with the necessities for life and as mentioned earlier because of this these Natives felt inclined to tell stories on how this came to be and how to preserve their way of life. Their way of life, however, soon drastically changed with Christopher Columbus' discovery of the "New World" in 1492 and further colonization of the Americas by the Spanish, English, and French. The Hopi Indians tell of an uprising against the Spanish in The Coming of the Spanish and the Pueblo Revolt, which occurred in 1680. Perhaps what is most important about such stories told is that it provides a window through which we can see the other side of the "beginnings" of U.S. history. Thus many of the stories relating to the arrival of the Europeans can be considered historical accounts from a different perspective than that of the converting Indians from pagans to Christians, but that of oppression over a resident group of peoples.

3. Influence on the Short Story: The Native narratives can be considered the original short stories of the Americas. These stories were originally told orally and are generally short because these stories had to get across the main ideals held within each tribe over a relatively short period of time. In order to further capture the audience these stories were sang and an interpretive dance could also be provided. These narratives provide a deep insight into myth via the fundamental truths that are revealed in such stories. For example, truths about humanity are revealed in these short stories and even the beginnings of human life, in which the first humans were begotten of the earth. This is a common theme for many humans universally across the world, even Christians who believe that we are but made of dust and to dust we shall return. The Native narratives also use a literary tool of repetition in many of their stories as a device to instill expectation. These narratives also provide Americans with a deeper historical understanding of a very influential time here in the United States, especially the historical narratives that the various tribes told regarding their fight for survival and their way of life. However, until only recently in American history these short stories have held little significance in American literature. Now that these stories are being institutionalized academically it is much more obvious where themes such as a individuals like the American farmers being totally reliant upon their land in the 1930’s or other stories of oppression have some of their roots, from that of the Native Americans dating back over 200 years. Finally the idea of incorporating one’s personal experiences into a short story has existed as long as the short story; however, the Native Americans added more than mere personal experiences but also tribe experiences that could be felt on a universal level. This concept has been used continually throughout the history of the American Short Story.

4. Connections To Our Class: In as many differences as Edgar Allan Poe's Short Stories have with those of the Native Narratives there are yet some similarities. For instance, the use of the name Le Bon in Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which translates roughly into English as "of the good", is somewhat the same as the Native's use of certain animals within their stories. For example, it would have been common knowledge to the Natives that the Raven was an intelligent and cunning bird and from this one within the audience could expect such actions from a raven character within their stories just as someone with some French language background would pick up that Le Bon, by nature, was innocent although he was being detained. A second similarity between such works even exists in the ability of the story to exhibit much of the background of the tribe and in Poe's case his own psyche and personal life. In both cases the audience or reader is immersed into the societal opinions and ideals of the Native Americans or into the depths of E.A. Poe's mind. To take it a step further, it is important to have some understanding of the people that composed the various tribes such as the Hopi, who dwelled in the American Southwest. In that knowing that these individuals were farmers reliant upon maize amongst other crops the audience or reader can readily understand why these people tell stories about life being literally connected to the earth and their lives were much like the growth of a plant being connected to the land and weather. Thus such imagery was used as examples of their own lives. Likewise it would be nearly impossible to try and interpret what Poe could have meant or how he had been influenced to write without the knowledge of his alcohol abuse and possibly his abuse of certain narcotics. In the end the Native Narratives can be applied to all works that will be studied this year in our class the American Short Story simply because like all other short stories it is based on an experience and how it can be shared to motivate and captivate its audience.

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