Critical Analysis on Fools Crow by James Welch - Essay Example

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To read the novels f James Welch is to realize that contemporary Native American literature is puzzlingly redundant, a redundancy more significant than recurring stock scenes and characters may at first suggest. Echoes f D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded ( 1936) are heard in N…
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Critical Analysis on Fools Crow by James Welch
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Download file to see previous pages It is, moreover, the poetry f "singers" like Ray Anthony Young Bear, Simon J. Ortiz, Joy Harjo, Wendy Rose, the late William Oandasan, Geary Hobson, Linda Hogan, and, again, Welch--especially in Riding the Earthboy Forty ( 1971; rev. ed., 1975)--that brings into greater focus the reason for this noticeable recurrence f seemingly antiheroic, alienated, and benumbed protagonists, singers, and speakers at odds with their pasts and the times and places in which they find themselves. It is the simultaneous impetus f atavism and modernism--the need, as Young Bear phrases it, "to be there, standing beside our grandfathers, being ourselves" and by meeting that need, to bring meaning to the twentieth-century predicament. (McCoy 110-112)
An exorcism first: this is not "just another Custer book," nor is it unbalanced in any way by James Welch's aboriginal heritage. It is, in fact, a valuably enhanced examination f "the most depicted event in our [American] history" (p. 22). It incorporates the results f recent, innovative research methodology, using topographical and time-motion studies. It benefits, too, from an opportune archeological investigation by a young Canadian archeologist, Richard Fox f the University f Calgary, who conducted a timely dig following a 1983 grassfire which revealingly denuded the Little Bighorn battlefield. Welch had access to his family's oral-tradition accounts (his great-grandmother, Red Paint Woman, survived the Baker Massacre f 1870, about which more later); and by Welch's stylistic gifts (he is an acclaimed poet, novelist, and screenwriter).
The book, solidly documented, also bears some well-controlled, reader-friendly hallmarks f "the nonfiction novel." It evolved quite naturally from a year and a half f research which was distilled into a twenty-two page scenario for a PBS documentary film (Last Stand at Little Bighorn, directed by Paul Stekler and aired in late 1992). Welch recapitulates, succinctly and clearly, the context and circumstances f the Little Bighorn disaster, focusing consistently and persuasively on the broad complex f cultural, economic, and philosophical factors which, conjoined, made that event inevitable. He does not indulge himself in Custer-bashing, so irresistibly tempting to so many recent non-Native investigators. Nor does he romanticize the often unsophisticated -- and, at times, hapless -- late nineteenth century Blackfeet; he is, on occasion, bluntly condemnatory, even though he clearly understands the almost irresistible pressures which undermined effectual Native solidarity then and now. (Gish 309-11) He is unblinking in his assessment f the basic motives f both sides: the whites wanted the vast northwestern hunting grounds f the Natives; the Natives, eager for the material trade goods which would make their hard lives easier, were willing to cede some f their land. There was, unfortunately, never any chance that a just exchange was possible. Welch points out, sardonically but without much rancor, that western Plains aboriginals lost their holistic lifestyle when the buffalo were transmuted by planned, systematic slaughter into fur coats, industrial belting, and bonemeal for the eastern industries f the whites; they were also degraded by ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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