Leslie Marmon Silko’s work is set apart due to her Native American Heritage. She writes through ‘Indian eyes’ which makes her stories very different from others. Silko is a Pueblo Indian and was educated in one of the governments’ BIA schools. She knows the culture of the white man, which is not uncommon for modern American Indians. Her work is powerful and educating at the same time.
In this paper, I will discuss three different works by Silko (Lullaby, Storyteller, and Yellow Woman). Each of the stories will be discussed according to the plot, style, and social significance. After that, I will relate Silko’s work to other literary genies and analyze her work as a whole.
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The main character in this story is a woman named Ayah. Ayah is a Native American who lives in a shack with her husband and two children. She is not very close to her husband, (Chato), but she is very loyal to him. This is the way of a Navajo Woman, being loyal to your husband and family. Chato was a well-spoken man who spoke both English and Spanish in addition to his native language. The worst thing that happened to Ayah was the loss of her two children to the welfare board. They were either sick or she wasn’t providing for them. She wasn’t taking care of them in a way that pleased the whites; however, she raised her children beautifully in the Native American tradition.
“Lullaby” is full of Native American cultural traits. On page 1139 Silko says, “he used words to speak of the dead” which is an example of Navajo Culture. The Navajo do not use the names of the dead and speak carefully about as to not upset their soul. In addition, when they said not to send the body back home many people may see this is strange. They believe that after death the soul is released and thus the body is rendered useless. Silko does a wonderful job delineating Navajo culture. Ayah is tied to the earth and she twists it to protect her.
The main character in this story is s young Eskimo woman. Her parents are dead so she is cared for by her grandmother and grandmother’s boyfriend. While she is away at reform school her grandmother dies leaving her in the care of “the man”. This man was whom her grandmother lived with who the girl was not blood-related. The man abuses her sexually and has for a long time.
In addition, she is taken advantage of by other men in the town. She is constantly evaluating white culture that is always encroaching. She laughs when she thinks of the yellow stuffing that is supposed to keep them warm. The boarding schools take away the young people in the village and cause them to lose traditions and cultural traits. The young men who had been away at school forgot how to hunt the seals. Silko is saying that whites are destroying the Indian culture. Eskimo and Navajo are completely different cultures, which Silko describes and details beautifully.
This I would say is a modern rendition of an old Indian folk tale. Silko says in a commentary that it can be interpreted in many ways. It is difficult to pin down one central theme or meaning in “Yellow Woman”. It is more ambiguous in nature than the other stories I’ve discussed in this work.
The style in Silko’s writing straightforward and similar in style to Biblical writing. It is very insightful, but to the casual reader could appear bland. Her writing is very different from Romantic writing. Romantic writers were very wordy and wrote in long sentences. Silko writes in mostly concise and informative sentences. Silko is similar in nature to post-modern writing due to her social commentary and ambiguous nature. However, I would have to say that she is really in a class by herself.
Native Americans are one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the U.S. There is a myth that Native Americans are disappearing as a people; this is not true. Native Americans are resilient people and hold strongly to their heritage. It is true that a great deal of Native American cultures, even entire tribes, have been lost. However, despite the hardships and oppression, they have suffered they have remained as a people.
Like I said before, Silko writes through the eyes of an Indian. In studying Native Americans, one can easily lump all Native Americans into one homogeneous cultural group. This is a grave mistake because Native American groups can differ as much as English from Africans. She is very well educated to understand the intricacies of various Native American groups. She must truly understand them to write through their eyes. Silko is trying to break the myth that Indian cultures are dying. Native Americans must adapt under the pressure of whites, but a great deal of tradition is still intact. Silko is a voice of truth and reality for the Native Americans.
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