Reading Native American Literature

Reading Native American Literature

Reading Native American Literature

Reading Native American Literature


Native American literature explores divides between public and private cultures, ethnicities and experience. In this volume, Joseph Coulombe argues that Native American writers use diverse narrative strategies to engage with readers and are 'writing for connection' with both Native and non-Native audiences.

Beginning with a historical overview of Native American literature, this book presents focused readings of key texts including:

• N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn

• Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony

• Gerald Vizenor's Bearheart

• James Welch's Fool's Crow

• Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

• Linda Hogan's Power.

Suggesting new ways towards a sensitive engagement with tribal cultures, this book provides not only a comprehensive introduction to Native American literature but also a critical framework through which it may be read.


In The Man Made of Words, N. Scott Momaday discusses one of his favorite stories, “The Arrowmaker.” In the story, the arrowmaker and his wife are working inside their tepee when the man glimpses a stranger lurking outside. Calmly using his own language, he first alerts his wife to the potential danger. Then the arrowmaker addresses the stranger – still speaking in his native tongue – and, upon receiving no answer, concludes that the man is an enemy. While ostensibly checking the straightness of his arrows, he shoots the stranger outside the teepee through the heart. Momaday values this story for its combination of surface simplicity and deep profundity, and he focuses particularly on its evocative treatment of language as a method of self-definition that contains explicit dangers. The arrowmaker uses words to express and determine his relation to a potentially menacing stranger. To Momaday, language is simultaneously a means of self-protection and a calculated risk. Words allow people to create and define themselves, often by communicating to others, who may or may not be receptive in positive ways.

The story serves also as a lesson to those – metaphorically speaking – outside the tepee. Many readers of Native American fiction are non-Native. To indigenous authors, they are unknown entities, comparable to the lurking stranger in Momaday’s “The Arrowmaker.” Contemporary Native authors address them in their own language – sometimes literally, more often . . .

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