The Evolution of Survival as Theme in Contemporary Native American Literature: from Alienation to Laughter
Description: With the publication of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, House Made of Dawn. N. Scott Momaday ended a three-decade hiatus in the production of works written by Native American writers, and contributed to the renaissance of a rich literature. The critical acclaim that the novel received helped to establish Native American literature as a legitimate addition to American literature at large and inspired other Native Americans to write. Contemporary Native American literature from 1969 to 1974 focuses on the themes of the alienated mixed-blood protagonist and his struggle to survive, and the progressive return to a forgotten or rejected Indian identity. For example, works such as Leslie Silko's Ceremony and James Welch's Winter in the Blood illustrate this dual focal point. As a result, scholarly attention on these works has focused on the theme of struggle to the extent that Native American literature can be perceived as necessarily presenting victimized characters. Yet, Native American literature is essentially a literature of survival and continuance, and not a literature of defeat. New writers such as Louise Erdrich, Hanay Geiogamah, and Simon Ortiz write to celebrate their Indian heritage and the survival of their people, even though they still use the themes of alienation and struggle. The difference lies in what they consider to be the key to survival: humor. These writers posit that in order to survive, Native Americans must learn to laugh at themselves and at their fate, as well as at those who have victimized them through centuries of oppression. Thus, humor becomes a coping mechanism that empowers Native Americans and brings them from survival to continuance.
Date: December 1994
Creator: Schein, Marie-Madeleine
Partner: UNT Libraries