Black Elk talks about the old days when everything was in the shape of a circle: tipis, healing circles. Everything tries to be round, he says: the moon and the sun, the cycles of a man's life. Birds build their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The power of the world moves in circles (paraphrase, Black Elk Speaks.)
In The Surrounded, D'Arcy McNickle uses interlocking circles to show the conflicting lives of Archilde. In I Tell You Now the essayists use various shapes -- circles, spirals, doors, weavings, even a neon sign -- to illustrate the dilemma of the Native American creating a coherent self from the pull of two conflicting cultures. Carter Revard writes: "The past has windows, the future only doors, and God knows who may be looking at us through the peepholes where in this ragged English I knock for some of us" (68). He gives us a peek into some of these doors with his stories of scandals and lawbreaking. He comments on the stories himself, especially the ones that don't fit the stereotypes: "so that isn't very Indian, is it?" (73). He opens the door into the outhouse, and the door into his stream of consciousness, when he finds the wasp trapped in the spider's web in the toilet hold more interesting than Proust. Proust also noticed little things and described them in great detail, but Revard casts aside the "canon" and the wrong myths created by Steinbeck and Ronnie (73). He describes each person as a "black hole out of which no light could ever emerge to another" (77), solitary individuals with "no idea who we were . . . what we were like as persons" (78). Finally he chooses the image of the mockingbird to depict himself and wants to sing as the birds do in the Osage naming ceremony, "who learning song and flight became beings for whom the infinite sky and trackless ocean are a path to spring: now they will since, and we are dancing with them, here" (84). The shape of the self to Revard, then, an open door, a bird song, a dance.
Joseph Bruchac also dreams of flight and still flies in his dreams. He inherited his fearlessness of high places from his grandfather, along with his storytelling, "which is as much a part of my own fabric as if I had been there when that day was being woven" (200). He learns about himself from listening to the family stories and sharing them with his children, by being a "translator's son," and by looking into the mirror and accepting his own ugliness. The shape of his identity is woven by family stories and by self acceptance.
Wendy Rose's shape is that of a neon sign flashing her pain in vivid color, in random patterns. The shape of her essay, like the shape of her self, is fragmented. She juxtaposes imagery of her abuse, "bruises that rise on [her] flesh like blue marbles" (253) with a chronological fantasy story with a happy ending of healing. The pain of her abuse resurfaces, and old wound continually bleeding in neon red: "I didn't know that such scars never heal up" (259). She ends the essay with a tree shape, digging for roots, pruning herself, consuming herself.
Joy Harjo uses the images of blooming trees and singing birds to describe the transformation of the self, the healing of wounds, the hater becoming the one who is loved and loves (269). "And there you are, the secret/of your own flower of light/blooming in the miraculous dark" (268). The laughing blackbird and the "dark woman" talking to the speaker "from the center of miracles" represent a natural inner healing and apotheosis.
Archilde in The Surrounded is unable to choose a self-healing shape. Surrounded, caught in concentric circles, he hesitates too long between the Spanish father, the Catholic priest, the Indian mother. Ultimately he is trapped by the brutal law of the old west. His transformation begins when he tries to find meaning in the Flathead stories and feels the rhythm of the dance. He feels peace and security in his mother's tipi, feels the rush of Indian blood within him, but this happens too late for him to reach a hero's vision quest or a true metamorphosis. Elise wants him to ride off into her romantic sunset, Max wants him to till the soil like a dutiful son of a European landowner, Catharine wants him to reject he priest (which he has already done with his visit to the church). Neither the Indian stories nor the power of nature brings him peace. He has listened too long to conflicting stories: the Catholic stories of the Bible, the European education, the Old West law. Tragically his self remains unshaped. He puts his hands out for the shackles, a lamb led to the slaughter, while Mr. Parker tells him how pathetic it is that his kind never learn anything. Ironically Archilde flew around in circles like Black Elk's birds, but he could never fly away or build a nest.
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|Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream|
|I Tell You Now|
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