like Sister Josepha or resigning herself to death-in-life like the African nun. She
heads down the hill and leads her people toward achieving pride in themselves and
Having her protagonist address God with this mixture of French and Spanish
is one of the subtle ways in which Dunbar-Nelson reveals her character's Creole heritage.
Again, Dunbar-Nelson only subtly alludes to race by crediting Camille's
"blood" as a particular kind, having particular sensitivities.
Andrew O. Wiget explains in his discussion of the story's cultural and historical
background that "Indian reservations in the 1930s were notorious for their poverty, their
high mortality rate, their chronic unemployment" (854).
Another comparison between the behavior of the two women satirizes the
Christian belief in sacrifice and martyrdom: Walker's African nun comments upon how she
must "always bathe [her]self in cold water even in winter" (114). In trying to prove herself
worthy of Christ, Pauline tortures herself unmercifully. Two of the less abusive--but most
revealing because ridiculous--ways are that she restricts the number of times a day she can
relieve herself and wears her shoes on the wrong feet.
As Andrew Wiget explains the role of Christian missionaries, "One of the
principal policies of the United States was to transform Native Americans into carbon copies
of Anglo-Americans. and one of the principal ways that they hoped to accomplish this, ever
since the Grant administration of the 1870s was through religion. . . . The objective was to get
rid of the Indian while saving the man. Culture was imagined as a number of practices and
behaviors and customs, which--if they could be changed--would eliminate all the historic
obstacles to the Indians' participation in Anglo-American Culture. Of course, if they were
eliminated, so would the Indian nest be eliminated. Religion then is hardly a simple spiritual
force, but an agent of the interests of the Euro-American majority" (854).
One is here reminded of Nanapush, Pauline/Leopolda's nemesis in Tracks, who
takes Lulu Lamartine out of a school that would try to drive her culture out of her.
This observation about Sister Josepha recalls the earlier discussion of the source
of Pauline's behavior. She, too, lacked a communal sense when living among the Chippewa
people, in her case because of their treatment of people with mixed blood living among
Dunbar-Nelson Alice. Vol. I of The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. 3 vols. Ed.
Gloria T. Hull
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Erdrich Louise. Love Medicine. New York: Bantam, 1984.
Fontenot Chester J. "Alice Walker 'The Diary of an African Nun' and Dubois' Double
Consciousness". Journal of Anglo-American Issues 5 ( 1977): 192-96.
O'Leary Rev. Donald J. "On 'The Diary of an African Nun.'" Freedomways 9 ( 1969): 70-71.
Peterson Nancy J. "History, Postmodernism, and Louise Erdrich's Tracks". Publications
of the Modern Language Association 109 ( 1994): 982-94.
Walker Alice. "Alice Walker's Reply". Freedomways 9 ( 1969): 71-73.
______. In Love and Trouble. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
Wiget Andrew O. "Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) (h. 1954)". In Instructor's Guide for Heath
Anthology of American Literature. 2nd ed. Ed.
John Alberti. Lexington, Ma.: D.C, Heath, 1994.