Theme of Family Values in a Poem and Short Story
Family is the most actual subject for poems, short stories and novels. It is broad in its meaning and can include family issues, family values, traditions, customs, and relationships between family members. Without a doubt, every author has his/her attitude to family issues, and this refers to their origin, education, growing and family values. Therefore, the poem Dear John Wayne written by Louise Erdrich and the short story War Dances by Sherman Alexie are the objects for analysis of the family theme. This essay intends to explain the ways of revealing the family values in a poem and short story.
Having analyzed, the poem Dear John Wayne by Louise Erdrich and the short story War Dances by Sherman Alexie, one can say that the theme of family is central there. Dear John Wayne reveals the relationships between Native Americans. Yet, the main problem of this poem is a struggle for the land the Native Americans had lived. For Indians the notions of “family” and “native land” are similar and essential as their land is where their fathers, mothers and children are. They are committed to their ancient family traditions and their native places. “It is not over, this fight, not as long as you resist. Everything we see belongs to us”, writes Louse Erdrich in his poem (Erdrich 2). Thus, these lines prove that for the sake of their families, Native Americans are ready to fight to the death, and even when somebody deprives them of the land they remain devoted to traditions and values.
The Poem Dear John Wayne by Louise Erdrich
This poem is a proof that friendly and loving family relationships among Indians are the driving forces for their unity, culture and love to their land. “…the settlers who die beautifully, tumbling like dust weeds into the history that brought us all here together: this wide screen beneath the sign of the bear”, writes Erdrich (Erdrich 2). Thus, these lines prove that the author feels sympathy to the Native Americans. She intentionally compares Indians with weeds since weeds symbolize a friendly and united family that always supports and helps each other. As to colonizers, there is no such unity among them that why the author contracts the African-Americans to the white people (Brunton 5).
The Indians are resistant to imperialist domination and the poem reveals this. It means that even in family life Indians are against subordination. That is why they live in tribes with equal roles. The author of this poem repeats the word “skin” several times, and this is her ironic attitude to the relationships between the Indians and white people. Despite the fact that white people colonized the Indians, they did not pay attention to their family life comparing to Indians. They were too keen on the skin colour and desire to be dominant. As to the Indians, they respect their traditions and customs thus are morally and culturally richer (Brunton 3).
It is necessary to mention that the philosophy of imperialism and domination destroyed the family values of the white people; they divorce very often and do not respect family traditions. As to the Native Americans, they have friendly families who collaborate and support each other. Being a Native American ancestry, Louise Erdrich underlines the crucial differences between values of his ancestors and colonizers. Historical depiction of the Indians proves that their culture is eternal because they pass it from generation to generation as the most valuable treasure.
“A few laughing Indians fall over the hood slipping in the hot spilled butter,” writes Erdrich (Erdrich 2). These lines mean that the attitude to them was negative. The status of Indians was not clear and easy for describing. Colonization made them slaves on their land in spite of their attribution of independent state that they tried to protect by force of arms. Indians were in a sort of a permanent infancy when it came about public affairs and deprived of any rights. They were slaves with freedom, but that was even worse than slavery itself. White absolutism kept them from developing since it was forbidden to marry Indians. Indians had more limitations in their rights than slaves (Brunton 2).
Indians were friendly among their communities. They tried to collaborate with local communities, villages and even families. Such behavior proves that their peaceful relationships influenced family values. For Indians, independence was an abstract term, and difficult to understand whether they wanted it or not. However, one should admit the power of Indians' traditions, customs and beliefs did not allow the white people to destroy Indians as a community, culture and ethnicity (D’Errico 3).
Dear John Wayne violates the theme of family values indirectly through the relationships between Indians, their life in tribes and attitudes with the white people. Indians had become victims of colonization and unprotected class. They did not know what meant to be independent; freedom and celebration of independence were unknown for them. in addition, Indians were not included in the blessing of American freedom. They received the justice, liberty by the blood and hard work of Indians and the power of the culture, traditions and beliefs that revealed their identity. Moreover, those were powerful representations of the family that helped to save their culture and occupy a place in the American history (Beidler 4).
The Short Story War Dances by Sherman Alexie
The Short Story War Dances by Sherman Alexie explores the issue of self-preservation in family, art and the world at large. The similarity between Dear John Wayne and War Dances refers to the origin of the characters – Indian. It means that people described in the poem, and those that in a short story have the same family values. However, in a short story the problem of family is on the surface. In the poem the author depicts it indirectly through metaphors. A story War Dances reveals monumental life choices of the main characters. In the poem Dear John Wayne war is a fighting between the Native Americans and colonizers, in the story, war is a struggle for life and family comfort.
The central family issues violated in War Dances are failing marriage, poverty, bringing up children without a mother, performing the role of mother by father. “We’re hungry,” they said. “We keep telling you.” These lines prove that father is responsible for his children and should take care of them. For the main character family is a baggage as he does not know what to do with it. Hungry children, household duties, cleaning, cooking make him to be I. Obviously, he does not know how to behave with the children.
Another issue that does not make family happy is disease. In this short story, the doctor cuts off father's right foot. However, closeness between father and a son here is very thrilling. One can stop admiring how a man takes care about his father at the hospital. It is evident that troubles make people closer and friendly. Moreover, a short story War Dances teaches how to be human especially in family relationships.
The similarity between Dear John Wayne and War Dances is evident in the irony used by authors to depict family relationships and other issues. In War Dances, one feels the irony even in the subtitles with the help of which one can predict the development of the events. My Kaffka Baggage implies family that demands time, hard work, patience, love and devotion. The subtitle Symptoms signifies the activities of a family life that can provoke a nervousness, anger and irritation. The subchapter Blankets reveals the warm relationships between a father and son. A blanket stands here for a family warmth, love, care, support and understanding.
Doctor's Office implies other family issues that cannot concern only with health, but lack of understanding between family members. One can even say that they need psychological aid to comprehend in what direction to move further. “What the fuck was wrong with my fucking head? Had my hydrocephalus come back? Had my levees burst? Was I going to flood?” writes Sherman Alexie (Sherman 5). Hydrocephalus means other family issues that do not allow living calmly. One should understand this title indirectly as it signifies family intricate situations that one can solve but demands time. Conversation is the stage of the family life when the problems are behind, and one can return to the usual life. The author intends to show that there are compromises for any challenges.
During the whole story, the author is ironic especially when he describes everyday routine details. The character communicates aloud to him, and this proves about instability of his psychological and moral spirit. He puts rhetoric questions to himself because he is in a labyrinth of the life problems. “Power Bar – and climbed inside, only to be crushed by the shifts of fate and garment bags? As he died, did he feel fear? Isolation? Existential dread?” asks character. It is clear that he does not know what to do and how to solve all appeared challenges. Moreover, the author mocks at self-concentration of the character on his health and moral state. It seems that he does not know how a woman can cope with all family problems and household duties.
Concluding, both Dear John Wayne and War Dances reveal the family theme. However, they differ in the way of depiction. Louise Erdrich uses the genre of poem to show the family issues indirectly through constant struggles between the Native Americans and colonizers. Sherman Alexie uses a short story to describe family life directly through the everyday routines. To my mind, both ways help to understand the sharpness and actuality of this problem.
The similarity of these works concerns the origin of their characters because both are Indian. Another similarity refers to irony. In Dear John Wayne, the author is ironic about constant struggles between the Indians and white people. The result of them is that the Indians have powerful family relations that one can not destroy. As to the white people, their family values begin to degrade. Both literary works prove that the family issues will remain an eternal and philosophical subject for analysis, discussion and reflection. However, the difference will be in the approaches to the problem, context of the depiction, style and genre.