Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Gardening Ideas across Borders: Mobilities and Sustainability in Leslie Marmon Silko's Gardens in the Dunes

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Gardening Ideas across Borders: Mobilities and Sustainability in Leslie Marmon Silko's Gardens in the Dunes

Article excerpt

Travel writing in Western literature has been a genre predominated by male characters, sexist ideology, and colonial desire. In The Mind of the Traveler, Eric J. Leed calls traveling a "gendering activity" that highlights a sexist opposition: "There is no free and mobile male without the unfree and sessile female, no knight without the lady, no father without the mother" (217). Leed observes that for woman travelers, their journeys "are secret, necessitated, or accomplished through the agency of men" (221). In Discourse of Difference, Sara Milles calls attentions to the relation between the discourse of femininity and that of colonialism in 19th and early 20th century British women's travel writing. Milles contends that female travel writers "were at one and the same time part of the colonial enterprise, and yet marginalized within it" (106). Marilyn C. Wesley, another feminist scholar of this field, focuses on the deconstructive and reconstructive alternatives in her study on female travel writing. In Secret Journeys: The Trope of Women's Travel in American Literature, Wesley argues that for contemporary female writers of this genre, "the trope of women's travel is a dynamic means of expressing contradictions within, alternatives to, ambivalence about, and reformations of varied controlling conditions," which they want to deconstruct or reconstruct (xvi). For her, such a trope

   functions as a structure for the expression of difference--from
   feminine restriction, political circumstance, and imperialist
   expectations--that conveys alternative possibility for development
   rather than the exploitation symbolized by the contrastive
   adventure of the male traveler.... (xiii)

Leslie Marmon Silko's novel, Gardens in the Dunes, is an exemplar revisionist travel narrative that reveals multiple dimensions of such a genre by weaving three types of action--traveling, story-telling, and gardening--with three related themes-mobility, seeding, and healing. Through traveling, different species and ideas are disseminated and hybridized. Through story-telling, the interference or concurrence of ideas, which are complicated with related socio-political values, are dramatized in a contested way. Through gardening, seeds of plants and ideas are planted, nurtured, inter-pollinated, domesticated, and absorbed into the local ecosystem and social milieu, impacting neighboring communities. Different kinds of gardens (kitchen garden, fruit garden, botanist garden, landscape garden) are managed with diverse gardening ideals, reflecting the diversity of cultures and mobilities. The ways of gardening of plants and of ideas demonstrate how sustainable ideas help to maintain sustainable communities endangered by colonial and capitalist exploitation.

In this novel, Silko focuses on the diasporic experiences of two indigenous young women, Sister Salt and Indigo. They are children of rape committed by irresponsible white men. Sister Salt is fathered by a Presbyterian preacher, while her sister Indigo is sired by an unnamed white. Both are raised by their grandmother, Grandma Fleet, a descendant of the fictional Sand Lizard tribe, modeled on the Sand Papago living in the south of Colorado River tribes (Snodgrass 130). Their acquaintance with other displaced individuals or ethnic groups and their encounters with whites during their displacement are situated at the time of the dispersion of Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre, the culminating event of Indian removal policies and practices. In the novel, Silko illustrates the historical background of Wounded Knee Massacre and its social and cultural impacts on Native Americans and other ethnic communities by chronicling the separate journeys of Sister Salt and Indigo. Mary Ellen Snodgrass notes that Silko "bases the event on a Ghost Dance held in Kingman, Arizona, in 1893, but for the sake of her story, she resets the gathering in Needles, California" (338). …

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