Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies
English Language and Literature
Native American Traditions in the Work of
Bachelor‟s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, M.A., Ph. D.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová M.A., Ph.D. for her time and
Table of contents:
2. American Indian Stories: Zitkala-Sa‟s Tale of Biculturalism………….……...….5
2.1. “Impressions of an Indian Childhood”: Bicultural Environment
and Its Influence on Zitkala-Sa‟s work.……..…..…………………………………….….7
2.2. Reflections of Zitkala-Sa‟s Education in “White” Schools.………………………..….13
2.3. The Crucial Role of Storytelling and Legends in Native American Society
and Its Reflection in American Indian Stories…………………………………………...20
3. Old Indian Legends: Zitkala-Sa‟s Transcription of Native
American Traditions into the „Oppressor‟s‟ Language……………………….......25
3.1. Trickster Figures in Old Indian Legends.…………………..….............……………..27
3.2. Morals Involved in Legends and Their Educational Value.………………………...31
This thesis explores various aspects of Native American1 culture, as for
example social norms and conventions, family life, traditions and religion, as
reflected in the two major works written by Zitkala-Sa: American Inidan Stories
and Old Indian Legends. Both works are largely autobiographic and depict the
Native American culture and Zitkala-Sa‟s encounters with the other – Christian -
culture from her emotive and sensitive point of view. Although she was one of
the Native American autobiographical writers who had to fight for their position
among the recognized authors, Stanley argues that “Zitkala-Sa is one of the
first Native American women writers to write her autobiography without the
help of an interpreter or ethnographer” (65).
According to Henderson, Zitkala-Sa was born in 1876 on the Pine Ridge
Reservation, South Dakota. She was the third child of Ellen Tate „Iyohiwin
Simmons, a full blood Yankton Sioux2. When Zitkala-Sa was eight years old, she
decided, against her mother‟s will, to leave the reservation for White‟s Manual
Labor Institute in Wabash, a school funded by Quaker missionaries
(Henderson). Same as many other uprooted children, she returned after four
years to a “heightened tension with her mother and ambivalence regarding her
heritage” (Hoefel). As Zitkala-Sa later wrote about herself in “The Schooldays of
an Indian Girl”, the white school left her “neither a wild Indian, nor a tame
one.” Thus, after four years of trying to find her place among her people,
According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a Native American is “a member of any of the
aboriginal peoples of the western hemisphere; especially : a Native American of North America and
especially the United States.”
The Sioux are a “group of related North American Indian peoples living mostly in the Plains and
speaking related langauges within the Siouan language stock. They comprise the Dakota-speaking Santee
(Eastern Sioux), the Nakota-speaking Yankton, and the Lakota-speaking Teton (Western Sioux), each of
which in turn has lesser divisions (e.g., Blackfoot, Oglala). The name Sioux is a French derivation of an
Ojibwa name for „enemy‟ or „snake‟” (thefreedictionary.com definition).
Zitkala-Sa decided to study again and enrolled at the Santee Normal Training
School (Henderson). In 1895 Zitkala-Sa accepted scholarships from Earlham
College and later studied also at the Boston Conservatory (Henderson). After
her studies, Zitkala-Sa started to work as a teacher at the Carlisle Indian
School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt (Hoefel).
In 1900, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin began publishing articles criticizing
the Carlisle Indian School and adopted the pen name Zitkala-Sa (Henderson).
Her life was full of important achievements in Indian affairs and she was an
icon for many Indian people. “Her talents and contributions in the worlds of
literature, music, and politics challenge the long-standing beliefs that the white
man‟s culture is good, and Native Americans are sinful savages” (Henderson).
It is known that, historically, the importance of the works of Native
American female writers has been underestimated, because of the „white‟3 view
of their position in society. The society had seen them as inferior, because in
the „white‟ society‟s view the men led the war parties, became chiefs and
guarded people and usually also conducted religious rituals. As Battaille and
Sands put it in their preface: “The popular view of American Indian women
disseminated by historians, anthropologists, sociologists and educators, as well
as novelists, accords women a low status because of the nature of the duties
they performed” (7). Their status was perceived as subordinate, although their
chores were equally important as those of their men to keep the home and the
The members of Euro-American population are called whites or palefaces in Zitkala-Sa‟s memoir, as
well as all the institutions connected with them. I decided to use this terminology as well, in order to
stress Zitkala-Sa‟s viewpoint.
Nowadays these prejudices regarding low status of Native American
women are disappearing. Moreover, some scholars emphasize the peculiar
focus of Native American women‟s memoirs: “The autobiographies of American
Indian women are generally concerned with the more private and intimate
aspects of their lives and cultures…” (Bataille and Sands 9). In this thesis, I
would like to develop arguments supporting this theory about the uniqueness of
Native American women‟s autobiographies by finding unusual and distinctive
episodes in Zitkala-Sa‟s memoirs and exploring the rhetorical devices she uses
in her descriptions. At the same time I would like to challenge the view of
women as inferior.
Zitkala-Sa was one of the many uprooted children of her generation.
Some scholars have proposed that this experience made Zitkala-Sa a bicultural
author, which means that “she signs in a context that is inseparably Anglo and
Yankton; a context in which she is irreducible to either culture and alienated
from each” (Carpenter 1), and I would like to find an evidence of this
hypothesis in her autobiography.
This thesis will also attempt to explore what particular aspects of Native
American culture are important for Zitkala-Sa and in what way she tries to
describe these to her readership.
At first, the life of Zitkala-Sa, her childhood, studies and later
achievements of her career are described. Especially her childhood was very
important and inspirational for her writing – many of the stories published at
first as a series in Atlantic Monthly and later together under the name American
Indian Stories, actually took place in the early years of life and formed her
personality as well as her world view. Thus, Henderson‟s and Hoefel‟s
biographies of Zitkala-Sa are really helpful to draw a parallel between Zitkala-
Sa‟s actual life and the descriptions of it in her works. One of the main sources
regarding the period of Zitkala-Sa‟s childhood and the reflections of this period
in American Indian Stories is Carpenter‟s essay entitled “Zitkala-Sa and
Bicultural Subjectivity”. In this scholarly work Carpenter focuses on the events
of Zitkala-Sa‟s childhood that formed her later biculturalism and on the
reflections of bicultural context in Zitkala-Sa‟s narrative.
Second, Zitkala-Sa‟s Old Indian Legends are mentioned; the collection in
which Zitkala-Sa tries to transcribe traditional Native American legends and
stories into a form intelligible also for her „white‟ audience. These are also
connected with her childhood, as she probably heard them back on the
reservation. The crucial part of these legends is formed by trickster figures,
which are also discussed in this thesis. The trickster theme is well elaborated on
in Carrol‟s article from the Ethos magazine, called “The Trickster as Selfish
Buffoon and Culture Hero.” This piece of work explores characteristics of
tricksters and the patterns of their behaviour. In order to define the legends
and other types of Native American stories, Bascom‟s and Reichard‟s theses are
cited. Many of the legends in Zitkala-Sa‟s collection involve a moral lesson, and
thus this topic is discussed in the thesis as well. In connection with Native
American legends and tribal stories, the restrictions placed on the revealing of
the inner secrets of tribe are touched upon, and some examples of Zitkala-Sa‟s
controlled writing in order with these restrictions are given.
2. American Indian Stories: Zitkala-Sa‟s Tale of Biculturalism
According to Carpenter, the three main parts of the largely
autobiographical collection of American Indian Stories were first published in
the Atlantic Monthly in 1900 under the titles “Impressions of an Indian
Childhood”, “The Schooldays of an Indian Girl” and “An Indian Teacher among
Indians”. These memoirs were reprinted in American Indian Stories, published
in 1921 and reissued in 1985 and 2003 (Carpenter 1).
In this collection Zitkala-Sa gives an account of her life, since the early
childhood until her return to the reservation after her studies in the „white
schools‟. Throughout the whole autobiography, Zitkala-Sa does not define
herself to be part of either „white‟ or Native American culture – Carpenter
argues that she produces a bicultural context, in which the two cultures are
inseparably connected: “Her text clearly draws from both Yankton and Euro-
American cultural resources” (4). She does not privilege any of the cultures;
both gave her something good and taught her lots of things, but in both of the
cultures Zitkala-Sa finds some difficulties. She feels good among Native
American people, but is put into an outsider position due to her education.
Among the „whites‟ she faces prejudices against her origin, but they approve of
her education. Zitkala-Sa thus “combined her bicultural resources to produce a
new type of Indian, one that exceeds the prescriptive roles offered Native
American women by either culture” (Carpenter 2).
This chapter focuses on Zitkala-Sa‟s childhood and on the way how her
growing up between the two cultures influenced her later writing. The first
subchapter deals with specific reflections of Zitkala-Sa‟s childhood in her
American Indian Stories. The main focus of the second subchapter is Zitkala-
Sa‟s education in the „white‟ schools and her emotional recount of this period in
the narrative. The third subchapter discusses the role of storytelling in Native
American culture as reflected in Zitkala-Sa‟s memoir, but also its role in general.
2.1. “Impressions of an Indian Childhood”: Bicultural Environment
and Its Influence on Zitkala-Sa‟s work
In the first part of American Indian Stories, “Impressions of an Indian
Childhood, Zitkala-Sa draws a complex picture of Native American lifestyle of
that time by describing her childhood among Native Americans on the Pine
Ridge reservation and illustrating Native American customs and traditions.
The lifestyle of the reservation had a major influence on Zitkala-Sa‟s
character. Until the arrival of Christian missionaries on the reservation, Zitkala-
Sa -according to her memoir - lived in a kind of paradise. All the adult members
of the Indian community on the reservation supported the children and were
very patient with them. Zitkala-Sa also describes the close relationship she had
with her mother who taught her how to behave towards elders, how to do
beadwork and how to cook, and told her stories about Indian spirits and brave
warriors. According to Kunce, in Zitkala-Sa‟s writings there is often seen a
parallel to the Bible, particularly to the Story of Eden, and in this Eden, her
mother was like God for the little girl (Kunce 75). Although she was adored by
her little daughter, she also commanded respect and obedience. Zitkala-Sa
writes in her memoir: “The quietness of her oversight made me feel strongly
responsible and dependent upon my own judgment. She treated me as a
dignified little individual as long as I was on my good behavior; and how
humiliated I was when some boldness of mine drew forth a rebuke from her!”
(“The Beadwork” 4).
As there is no pagination in the e-text versions of Zitkala-Sa‟s books that I used for my analysis, I
refer to the specific chapters from either American Indian Stories or Old Indian Legends throughout my
Besides her parent, another important element that influences Zitkala-Sa
and her world-view during her adolescence is the attitude of the adult
inhabitants of the reservation to the white people, or „palefaces,‟ as they call
them. It is shown right in the first chapter, called “My Mother,” on the example
of Zitkala-Sa‟s mother. When the seven-years-old Zitkala-Sa asks her, who the
paleface is, the mother‟s answer is: “My little daughter, he is a sham,-- a sickly
sham! The bronzed Dakota is the only real man.” The little girl quickly adopts
her mother‟s opinion and says that she “[hates] the paleface that makes [her]
mother cry!” People from Zitkala-Sa‟s mother‟s generation blame the „palefaces‟
for ruining their lives, because they had taken their land and had driven them
away “like a herd of buffalo” (“My Mother”). Many people had died during the
moving of the camps,5 and thus the ones, who survived adopt the same
attitude as Zitkala-Sa‟s mother who calls the paleface “heartless” in Zitkala-Sa‟s
memoir. Carpenter compares her tale about the removal to the Christian fall
from grace modernized in an American context: “In [Zitkala-Sa‟s] mother‟s
account, Indians are the innocent in America, the true inhabitants of the land,
wronged by the shameful deceptions of „palefaces‟” (7-8). „Whites‟ lose the
status of innocence, because under the influence of imperialism they commit
genocide on Native Americans in order to occupy the land. As a consequence,
“no group can view America as a sacred garden” (Carpenter 8). Moreover, it
was not only the land that Native American people had lost. They identified
themselves in terms of their land and thus were closely connected to it. The
The best known examples of Native American people dying during the removal due to inhuman
conditions were the Trail of Tears and the Trail of Death, which both took place in 1830‟s. During the so
called Trail of Tears 4.000 Cherokees died and in the Trail of Death about 40 Indian children lost their
lives (from wikipedia.org).
Native Americans lost part of their culture together with their land; they lost
“the perception that they are privileged inhabitants” (Carpenter 8). This Native
American view of „whites‟ as their oppressors is perceptible in the recounting of
Zitkala-Sa‟s childhood; on the other hand, this kind of prejudices and maybe
even racism is evident also in the insolent behaviour of „whites‟ towards Native
Americans later in the narrative, when Zitkala-Sa describes her studies at the
Nevertheless, the Native American people, as described in the memoir,
had very positive attitudes to each other. All members of the tribe were
honoured and those who had performed some memorable act were almost
worshiped. The warriors of the tribe were looked up to and welcomed in every
wigwam. Zitkala-Sa‟s uncle, mentioned in the chapter called “Legends,” was
one of them: My uncle, whose death my mother ever lamented, was one of our
nation's bravest warriors… Every one loved him, and my mother worshipped his
memory. Thus it happened that even strangers were sure of welcome in our
lodge, if they but asked a favor in my uncle's name (“The Legends”).
Hospitability is very common among the Sioux – it is an important way
how to show your honour and respect to other people. Zitkala-Sa also mentions
it many times – for example in the second chapter called “Legends”: “At noon,
several who chanced to be passing by stopped to rest, and to share our
luncheon with us, for they were sure of our hospitality.”
Besides the social life on the reservation, Zitkala-Sa describes the
relationships in family - between children and their parents. In another chapter,
called “The Beadwork,” Zitkala-Sa shows to us something about learning and
teaching among the Sioux. As reported by Anderson, one of the most important
concepts in child-raising among Native American people in general is
observation. Almost everything the child learns is through observing the adults.
Children also have to be independent and often, since early childhood, have to
decide on their own. Observation also extended to nature and its mechanisms,
as children were encouraged to “observe animals and their habits, the weather,
and on what side of the tree the moss grew thickest. The lessons continued at
night in the lodge where elders asked what had been learned that day”
(Anderson 19). The adults made it possible for children to learn by letting the
children watch them or by purposely showing them how to do things.
Observation and patience were the most important notions. Thus even Zitkala-
Sa was taught how to do the beadwork: “Close beside my mother I sat on a
rug, with a scrap of buckskin in one hand and awl in the other. This was the
beginning of my practical observation lessons in the art of beadwork” (“The
Beadwork”). It took many trials for the little girl to produce such beadwork as
her mother did; her mother demanded independence from her and desired her
to finish whatever she began. She also wanted Zitkala-Sa to observe the
behaviour of other people on the reservation – for example when she went to
invite neighbours to a party. Zitkala-Sa reminisces in the chapter “The
Legends”: “I told my mother almost the exact words of the answers to my
invitation. Frequently she asked, „What were they doing when you entered their
tepee?‟ This taught me to remember all I saw at a single glance.”
Another important notion in regard to teaching/learning and child-raising
which is present in the narrative is the “connection between memory and the
impression of fear” (Carpenter 22). If Zitkala-Sa was afraid of what would
happen if she would break some rule, she never actually broke it. But the fear
must have been more majestic than just the fear of her mother‟s disapproval –
it took shape of evil spirits or other supernatural powers, as in the story of the
dead man‟s plum bush.6 According to Carpenter, “In each circumstance, her
rude curiosity is restrained by a story that causes enough fear to prevent
Zitkala-Sa from forgetting the instructional words or repeating the uncivil
Among many other pieces of memories from her childhood, Zitkala-Sa also
mentions some actual persons, for example her favourite aunt. Zitkala-Sa liked
her because she was so different from her mother – while Zitkala-Sa‟s mother
was quiet and, although loving, she was also strict, the aunt was more cheerful:
“I was very fond of my aunt, because she was not so quiet as my mother.
Though she was older, she was more jovial and less reserved. She was slender
and remarkably erect. While my mother's hair was heavy and black, my aunt
had unusually thin locks” (“The Ground Squirell”). She came to their wigwam in
autumn, to help Zitkala-Sa‟s mother to preserve the food for winter. Another
ancestor of Zitkala-Sa mentioned in her memoir is her uncle, who was “one of
[the Sioux] nation‟s bravest warriors. His name was on the lips of old men
when talking of the proud feats of valor, and it was mentioned by younger
men, too, in connection with deeds of gallantry” (“The Legends”). Although
these people really lived, Zitkala-Sa never mentions their names in the text.
See the section 2.3. “Importance of Storytelling and Legends as Reflected in American
This might be a consequence of ancient restrictions imposed on the use of
some names among Native Americans. As Bloodworth argues, “In tribal life the
act of publicizing private experience was generally restricted to the immediate
family or community audience. Often even the telling of a person's name to
strangers was prohibited” (70).
2.2. Reflections of Zitkala-Sa‟s Education in “White” Schools
Despite the close relationship with her mother and the contented life on
the reservation, Zitkala-Sa, as any other inquisitive child, was curious about the
„real‟ world outside the reservation and longed for education. According to
Henderson, at the age of eight Zitkala-Sa was tempted by the missionaries‟ talk
about White‟s Manual Institute in Wabash. The missionaries in chapter called
“The Big Red Apples” described the East as a place where “the nice red apples
are for those who pick them” and told Zitkala-Sa that if she will go with them,
she “will have a ride on the iron horse” (“The Big Red Apples”). Although
Zitkala-Sa‟s mother did not agree with her leaving the reservation, and although
she warned her that she will cry for her mother and the palefaces will not even
soothe her, Zitkala-Sa still desperately wanted to go and to “see the wonderful
Eastern land” (“The Big Red Apples”). As she writes, it was “the first turning
away from the easy, natural flow of [her] life” (“The Big Red Apples”). Little
Zitkala-Sa was determined to go to the country of “the big red apples;”
however, she soon regretted this decision (“The Land of Red Apples”). Zitkala-
Sa describes her arrival to the white school in these words: “Trembling with
fear and distrust of the palefaces, my teeth chattering from the chilly ride, I
crept noiselessly in my soft moccasins along the narrow hall, keeping very close
to the bare wall. I was as frightened and bewildered as the captured young of a
wild creature” (“The Big Red Apples”). In fact, Zitkala-Sa was curious and
anxious to see the world, but she did not realize the consequences of her
departure. She was young and inexperienced, and although her education later
brought its fruit, it also separated her from her mother and from her tribe in a
It was on the first day in the new school that Zitkala-Sa realized that
nothing would be as easy as she thought. The „palefaces‟ did not understand
her and did not care about her feelings. In the chapter called “The Land of Big
Red Apples” Zitkala-Sa reminisces about how lost and lonely she felt:
I had arrived in the wonderful land of rosy skies, but I was not happy, as I
had thought I should be. My long travel and the bewildering sights had
exhausted me. I fell asleep, heaving deep, tired sobs. My tears were left to dry
themselves in streaks, because neither my aunt nor my mother was near to
wipe them away (“The Land of Red Apples”).
On the whole, Zitkala-Sa did not like the white school, where the children
had their hair cut and were not allowed to say a word unless they were asked
to. The Native American children‟s unfamiliarity with the English language was
the cause of many misunderstandings; one of them Zitkala-Sa describes in The
“Schooldays of an Indian Girl,” in the chapter called “The Snow Episode”. The
children used the only word they knew to reply to an angry teacher –
unfortunately the word was “no”:
With an angry exclamation, the woman gave her a hard spanking.
Then she stopped to say something. Judéwin said it was this: „Are
you going to obey my word the next time?‟ Thowin answered again
with the only word at her command, „No.‟ This time the woman
meant her blows to smart, for the poor frightened girl shrieked at
the top of her voice.
Moreover, there was an iron routine in the school, which leisurely raised
Indian children never heard of before (“Iron Routine”). Their lives were directed
by the ringing of the bell and by stringent orders of the teachers. They were
awakened at half past six and summoned to breakfast, before which their
names were ticked off the long list. The routine absorbed them, as there was
no time to rebel against it between the tasks: “It was next to impossible to
leave the iron routine after the civilizing machine had once begun its day's
buzzing; …I have many times trudged in the day's harness heavy-footed, like a
dumb sick brute” (“Iron Routine”). In the end, as Zitkala-Sa herself wrote,
thanks to the drill in the white school, she grew bitter and “the melancholy of
those black days left so long a shadow that it darkens the path of the years that
have since gone by” (“Iron Routine”).
In addition, the children at the school were stripped of their identities in
terms of clothes, the traditional hairstyle and even the mother tongue. The
episode describing the cutting of Zitkala-Sa‟s hair is very emotional; she is
determined to struggle because “among [her] people, short hair was worn by
mourners, and shingled hair by cowards” (“The Cutting of My Long Hair”). But
in the end, her efforts were unsuccessful:
I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold
blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off
one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit… Not a soul reasoned
quietly with me, as my own mother used to do; for now I was only
one of many little animals driven by a herder (“The Cutting of My
Furthermore, part of the children‟s acculturation was Christianity – the
teachers read Bible to them and wanted them to believe in an only Christian
God. However, the children adopted only some notions of the Christian belief –
one of them, as Zitkala-Sa writes, was the devil. She knew the stories of evil
spirits, but “never knew that there was an insolent chieftain among the bad
spirits, who dared to array his forces against the Great Spirit.” The mixing of
the two religious terminologies – the Christian devil and the Native Great Spirit
– shows the confusion of the children, but also their willingness to adopt the
„white‟ norms, their adaptability. The two cultures become one in the minds of
the uprooted children; they carry with themselves their Native experience, but
now gain another. “[Zitkala-Sa‟s] narrator‟s intermingling of cultural traditions,
and willingness to alternate between them to suit her purposes, suggests that
Zitkala-Sa does not experience them as distinct” (Carpenter 11).
Despite these disappointing experiences, Zitkala-Sa studied three years in
the „white‟ school. After these she returned to the reservation and to her
mother. In the chapter called “Four Strange Summers” she shares with the
readers her experience with uprooting, estrangement and the feeling that she
belongs nowhere: “During this time I seemed to hang in the heart of chaos,
beyond the touch or voice of human aid…Even nature seemed to have no place
for me.” Zitkala-Sa was back on the reservation, among her people, but they
had changed too. Her peers had spent some time in the „white‟ schools too, and
they began to behave like „civilized‟ people. They became bicultural as well as
Zitkala-Sa did. They spoke English and wore the white men‟s dress to their
evening parties. Zitkala-Sa could speak English as well, but could not attend the
celebration, because she did not have a proper dress. Her mother was sad and
prayed to the dead warriors for Zitkala-Sa, but she could not find her position in
Native American society. She wanted to escape from her problems with
Many schemes of running away from my surroundings hovered
about in my mind. A few more moons of such a turmoil drove me
away to the eastern school. I rode on the white man's iron steed,
thinking it would bring me back to my mother in a few winters,
when I should be grown tall, and there would be congenial friends
awaiting me (“Four Strange Summers”).
Zitkala-Sa hoped to find her identity, and because she did not manage to do so
on the reservation, she tried her luck in the „white‟ society again. But it turned
out that there was not her place either.
After another three years in schools, Zitkala-Sa was given her first
diploma. She wanted to continue on to college and asked her mother for
approval. Her mother disagreed with her daughter‟s studies; she wrote Zitkala-
Sa that she “had better give up [her] slow attempt to learn the white man's
ways, and be content to roam over the prairies and find [her] living upon wild
roots” (“Incurring My Mother‟s Displeasure”). Thus, mother and daughter are
separated by their different opinions, and Zitkala-Sa again shows her
„disobedience‟ and free will. Although she could do what she wanted, she
regretted that her mother did not support her decision. She writes: “homeless
and heavy-hearted, I began anew my life among strangers” (“Incurring My
Other students‟ curious looks and her own loneliness at the college
depressed Zitkala-Sa and she once again longed for home, even though she
knew she would not find her place there either: “Often I wept in secret, wishing
I had gone West, to be nourished by my mother's love, instead of remaining
among a cold race whose hearts were frozen hard with prejudice” (“Incurring
My Mother‟s Displeasure”). Although Zitkala-Sa soon achieved the respect of
her fellow-students by her wit and knowledge, there were still people who saw
her as a savage Indian girl. At an oratorical contest, where different colleges
competed, she experienced humiliation from the „white‟ audience, who behaved
like „savages‟ themselves: “Here again was a strong prejudice against my
people… There, before that vast ocean of eyes, some college rowdies threw out
a large white flag, with a drawing of a most forlorn Indian girl on it… Such
worse than barbarian rudeness embittered me” (“Incurring My Mother‟s
Displeasure”). In the end, Zitkala-Sa won the contest, but the astringency of
this experience stayed with her forever. By describing a situation like this to her
readers, Zitkala-Sa wants them to remember and to prevent the repetition of
such behaviour to different ethnics, to be more respectful of others. Carpenter
argues that she uses the technique of connection of fear and memory, which
was already mentioned:
As readers querying her Indian marks, we encounter her fearful tale of
assimilation. Zitkala-Sa‟s self-representation appeals to American readers as a
horror story, complete with detectives, witnesses, deferrals, and indirect
reported speech. In this sense, her autobiographical memoirs constitute a
gothic narrative that requires fear to be remembered. (Carpenter 22)
Zitkala-Sa‟s descriptions of her embittering experience from her stay
among the „whites‟ are very emotional, she describes her inner feelings and her
deepest worries. She feels lost among the „whites‟, but does not find her place
among the Native Americans neither. According to Carpenter, “Zitkala-Sa‟s
narrator selects personal incidents that allow her to display an Indian
stereotype as well as iterate how Natives, such as herself, disrupt the Anglo
trope of racial typing” (3). Zitkala-Sa‟s narrative serves her as a verbal weapon,
which she might “employ against „modern‟ scientists and bureaucrats”, who
threatened the interests of Native Americans and their culture, and who
contributed to denigration of tribal communities (Hoxie 982).
2.3. The Crucial Role of Storytelling and Legends in Native American
Society and Its Reflections in American Indian Stories
Marie L. McLoughlin describes the Dakota Sioux in the preface to her
book, which was published in 1916, as "simple, grave, and sincere people,
living in intimate contact and friendship with the big out-of-doors that we call
Nature" (2). Although her observations cannot be applied universally on all the
Sioux, in her opinion, they are honest and fair, and part of their character is the
desire “to seek to fathom the meaning of simple, everyday things and to learn
their lesson” (McLoughlin 2). Sioux people believe in the power of many spirits
who are responsible for the creation of everyday natural processes, as for
example rain or thunder, as well as for the creation of earth and people.
According to Anderson, “the Sioux believed that these supreme beings were
neither good nor evil” (17). Thus the Sioux try to live in harmony with nature
surrounding them in order not to make the spirits angry. That is why the
children among the Sioux are also taught that religion is closely connected with
other parts of daily life as hunting and tribal responsibilities. Anderson writes
that boys were encouraged to hunt and to share their catch with others. But
when an animal was killed, its spirit could cause a sickness for the village, so
there must be a sacrifice made. Some lessons of sacrifice were very hard for
the children because they had to sacrifice the dearest things to the Great Spirit
(Anderson 18). Anderson claims that all this knowledge was passed to the
youngsters by older members of the family (19).
Thus, storytelling forms an important part of Native American culture. As
Greg Sarris describes: “Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of culture, and
stories are used in a number of ways and for a multitude of purposes. Stories
can work as cultural indexes for appropriate or inappropriate behaviour. They
can work to oppress or to liberate, to confuse or to enlighten” (4). The first and
maybe the primary purpose why Native American stories are being told and
written is to preserve Native American history, their culture and identity for the
next generations of their own people: “…for many Indian peoples, their sense
of history and its conduct are not just secular or abstract pursuits. For them, no
less than for any modern or New historian, the „doing of history‟ can become a
pathway to rediscoveries of identity, home and inner purpose” (Nabokov ix).
Stories serve as a means of education passed from the elders to the youngsters
and carry spiritual or moral meanings – children learn from them about their
tribes, about famous warriors but also about moral rules and customs. As there
was usually no written history of the tribe in the past centuries, everything was
passed through storytelling.
As regards the types of „stories‟, Reichard argues that there are two
basic types in Native American environment: tales and myths. According to her,
“myths relate incidents which happened at a time when the world had not
assumed its present form, and when mankind was not yet in possession of all
the customs and arts which belong to our period. Tales are stories of our
modern period” (269). From this follows that Zitkala-Sa in her American Indian
Stories presents to us her tale, enriched with a touch of Native American
Storytelling and legends in American Indian Stories are mentioned for
the first time in the second chapter called “Legends.” As described by Zitkala-
Sa, the legends were told by the elders, usually when they were invited over for
supper. They sat around the fire in a great circle and told stories. Zitkala-Sa
reminisces: “I loved best the evening meal, for that was the time old legends
were told…I ate my supper in quiet, listening patiently to the talk of the old
people, wishing all the time that they would begin the stories I loved best.”
Native American legends are connected with the entire world and its
creation; they relate to trees, plants and animals and their origin, but also to
the objects of everyday use or to some special places nearby. Such is the
legend about the dead man‟s plum bush, which relates to a particular bush on
the reservation where Zitkala-Sa and her mother lived. One day, on their way
to a feast, little Zitkala-Sa and her mother passed a bush with plums. When
Zitkala-Sa wanted to pick a plum for herself, she was stopped by her mother.
She asked her mother why she cannot have a plum from the bush and was
Never pluck a single plum from this bush, my child, for its roots are
wrapped around an Indian's skeleton. A brave is buried here. While
he lived he was so fond of playing the game of striped plum seeds
that, at his death, his set of plum seeds were buried in his hands.
From them sprang up this little bush (“The Dead Man‟s Plum
Besides, that storytelling was a very important part of Native American
culture in Zitkala-Sa‟s time is obvious from the wide knowledge of stories and
legends among the Natives mentioned in her narrative. The eight-years-old
Zitkala-Sa was very well aware of the legends and stories which she heard from
her relatives and elders of the tribe: “Among the legends the old warriors used
to tell me were many stories of evil spirits. But I was taught to fear them no
more than those who stalked about in material guise.”
Moreover, each Native American culture, each tribe has its secrets, known
only to its members. Thus, since childhood, Native Americans are taught to
monitor their behaviour and to develop analytical skills and civil behaviour to
others. The secrets which represent the accumulated body of social and
spiritual knowledge of the tribe, cannot be revealed to unauthorized people.
According to Carpenter,
this education informs the [Zitkala-Sa‟s] persona‟s literary
rhetorics, since she adheres to its civil principles when writing to
her Euroamerican audience…Her subscription to these social
conventions guides what material appears in her autobiography.
She does not reveal the inner secrets of the tribe. (17-18)
An example of such restriction can be found in the chapter called
“Legends,” when little Zitkala-Sa asks about the tattooed crosses on the cheeks
of an old woman. Although Zitkala-Sa at the time of writing the story probably
already knew the meaning of the tattoos, she does not explain them for the
reader. Neither in Old Indian Legends does Zitkala-Sa give any explanation
regarding paint on the cheeks of warriors or the social norms, marriage and so
Restrictions are also placed on some kinds of use of names – for instance
the name of a dead warrior cannot be used again, although it is memorized by
his relatives. Some of the tribes “tend to avoid discussions of death and dying,
and the name of the dead person is not spoken” (Braun, Pietsch and Blanchette
3. Old Indian Legends: Zitkala-Sa‟s Transcription of Native American
Traditions into the „Oppressor‟s‟ Language
William Bascom describes Native American legends as telling “the
purported history of a people” (9). According to him, the legends, although
seldom approximately accurate, are usually believed to be completely true
As Zitkala-Sa writes, in her Old Indian Legends she “tried to transplant the
native spirit of these tales -- root and all – into the English language, since
America in the last few centuries has acquired a new tongue” (Preface to Old
Indian Legends). She attempted to revitalize oral traditions in order to recover
Native American cultural identity. This „translation‟ of Native American legends
into English represents another sign of Zitkala-Sa‟s biculturalism – she blends
the two cultures together, she uses the “oppressor‟s” language to transcribe the
history of her people and thus to introduce her culture to the „whites‟.
Even though Native American mythology is different from that of
Europe, some of the legends resemble European fairy-tales in their form – as
for example “The Tree-bound.” In this legend, a village is being threatened by a
red eagle which eats people. The chief offers one of his daughters to the man
who would kill the eagle, but no one succeeds, until the avenger with a magic
arrow comes. This search for a hero who would save the kingdom, and thus
would ensure a happy-ending, is typical for many European fairy tales. Likewise
the casting of the spell on the hero by Iktomi resembles some of the European
fairy-tales, where obstructions are laid into the hero‟s way by evil spirits.
Bascom even lists trickster tales under the heading of folktales; according to
him, the folktales “have also been known as „fairy tales‟”. He argues that “a
variety of sub-types of folktales can be distinguished including human tales,
animal tales, trickster tales, tall tales, dilemma tales, formulistic tales, and
moral tales or fables” (4).
On the other hand, many of the legends do not have a fairy-tale
happy-ending in the real sense. Most of them end with a moral lesson, not
unlike in the genre of fables. The similarity between Native American legends
and fables is in the use of allegory and animals with human qualities. As Porter
puts it, the blending of European and Native American stories is part of dynamic
cultural diversity. Thanks to the extensive trade routes, borrowing from
surrounding cultures occurred, and together with reinventions continued even
after the arrival of Europeans (4-5).
This chapter focuses on the way how Zitkala-Sa retells the Native
American legends and it explores the important elements of the stories, as for
example trickster figures and moral lessons involved. In the first subchapter,
the trickster, its traits and the role it plays in Native American society are
discussed. The second subchapter deals with the educational aspects of the
legends and its representations in Zitkala-Sa‟s collection.
3.1. Trickster Figures in Old Indian Legends
In Native American storytelling there often re-emerges a trickster figure.
It is an important part of the stories and legends and appears in many
narratives of Native American cultures, but also in narratives of other cultures
throughout the world. Trickster is a special kind of humour, but at the same
time it often gives morals in the stories. Gerald Vizenor argues that the trickster
is a communal sign. It is also a kind of god, goddess or spirit, who appears in
human or animal shape. The most frequent animal forms of trickster are
coyote, raven and hare. According to Carroll,
the Indian trickster is first and foremost a „selfish-buffoon‟--
„selfish‟ because so much of the trickster's activity is oriented
toward the gratification of his enormous appetites for food and
sex, and „buffoon‟ because the elaborate deceits that the trickster
devises in order to satisfy these appetites so often backfire and
leave the trickster looking incredibly foolish. (106)
Trickster plays tricks on others but is often also a victim of such tricks
itself. It usually brings some moral to the narrative, but sometimes it is present
just for fun. “He is positively identified with creative powers, often bringing
such defining features of culture as fire or basic food, and yet he constantly
behaves in the most antisocial manner we can imagine” (Babcock-Abrahams).
The trickster is also a kind of cultural hero, because he “is often the agent
responsible for creating the conditions that allowed for the development of
human civilization” (Carroll 106).
The most often mentioned trickster figure in Zitkala-Sa‟s Old Indian
Legends is Iktomi, “a spider fairy.” According to Carroll, he is the most wide-
spread trickster among the Dakota Sioux, Winnebago, Assinibone, Omaha and
Ponca tribes, although he carries a slightly different name in each tribe. He has
spread there through a process of cultural diffusion (Carroll 107). Although he
is “a wily fellow” and “his hands are always kept in mischief,” Zitkala-Sa makes
a digression to pity him, because he is lonely and has no one to rely on: “Poor
Iktomi cannot help being a little imp. And so long as he is a naughty fairy, he
cannot find a single friend. No one helps him when he is in trouble. No one
really loves him” (“Iktomi and the Ducks”). Zitkala-Sa maybe had such feelings
herself, when she studied at the „white‟ schools, but it is the only thing that she
and the trickster have in common. Iktomi is “wily” and lazy, and instead of
earning his living by hunting food for himself, he wanders around and plays
tricks on his victims in order to feed himself and sometimes even just for fun:
“Iktomi is a wily fellow. His hands are always kept in mischief. He prefers to
spread a snare rather than to earn the smallest thing with honest hunting.
Why! he laughs outright with wide open mouth when some simple folk are
caught in a trap, sure and fast” (“Iktomi and the Ducks”). In Zitkala-Sa‟s Old
Indian Legends, Iktomi is the connecting element of the stories which holds the
collection together. He appears in ten of the fourteen stories and some of them,
describing his peripeties, actually form successive series.
Besides, there is another trickster, who plays his part in Zitkala-Sa‟s
collection – the Rabbit. Rabbit or Hare is another animal widely associated with
trickster figures, in addition to the spider. “Manstin, the Rabbit” calls himself
kind-hearted and tries to help people and other „good creatures‟; he also warns
them against Iktomi: “MANSTIN was an adventurous brave, but very kind-
hearted. Stamping a moccasined foot as he drew on his buckskin leggins, he
said: „Grandmother, beware of Iktomi! Do not let him lure you into some
cunning trap. I am going to the North country on a long hunt‟” (“Manstin, the
Rabbit”). However, his behaviour is foolish because he does not appreciate
what he has and is in a constant search of something better.
Moreover, in one of the legends, Iktomi meets the Coyote. According
to Carroll, the Coyote is the most well-known trickster (107). Zitkala-Sa
describes him in this way: “A sleek gray-faced prairie wolf! his pointed black
nose tucked in between his four feet drawn snugly together; his handsome
bushy tail wound over his nose and feet; a coyote fast asleep in the shadow of
a bunch of grass!--this is what Iktomi spied” (“Iktomi and the Coyote”). The
coyote is even foxier than Iktomi and just quietly takes his chance of being
carried over the prairie on Iktomi‟s back.
Also Iya, the Camp Eater is in my opinion a trickster figure. He is an
evil spirit, who takes the shape of a baby in order to get into an Indian village.
He is neither animal nor human. His real appearance is described in the
following manner: “his huge body toppled to and fro, from side to side, on a
pair of thin legs far too small for their burden” (“Iya, the Camp Eater”).
In the remaining legends, the „main heroes‟ are usually animals –
eagle, toad, turtle, grasshopper, fish and dragonfly. Although these are not
tricksters in the real sense, there is actually some connection between the
trickster and these animals with human traits. This connection is “established
either by virtue of the name given to the trickster or by attributing to the
trickster certain animal traits” (Carroll 110). On the other hand, according to
Carroll, there are “only four animal categories that end up being associated with
seven basic tricksters. These four are coyote, raven, hare, and spider” (110).
Zitkala-Sa‟s descriptions of the tricksters show her knowledge of old
tribal legends which she tries to translate in such a way that they are intelligible
for her „white‟ readers. She, again, in the name of biculturalism, tries to connect
the two cultures together by sharing the Native American legends with
„palefaces‟. Legends in her version are readable and entertaining, and bring the
reader closer to Native American culture in an unobtrusive and amusing way.
3.2. Morals Involved in Legends and Their Educational Value
Legends, as recounted in Zitkala-Sa‟s Old Indian Legends, often contain
some moral lesson. As storytelling and legends served as a means of education
for children as well as for adults, the legends not only gave account of the
origin of the world around us, but also taught children how to behave. Bascom
argues that although these stories were told above all for amusement, they
actually have other important functions as well, and he even distinguishes a
special category of moral tales (4).
In the first of Old Indian Legends, called “Iktomi and the Ducks,” the
readers or listeners are acquainted with the story of curious and trustful ducks
who are lured into a trap by the “wily” Iktomi. He makes them dance with
closed eyes in exchange for his bundle of songs, but instead he kills them one
by one, until one of the ducks opens his curious eyes. Although Iktomi is
punished in the end, having trapped himself watching the wolves eat his feast,
the ducks are still dead. Reading it in Zitkala-Sa‟s version and in connection
with the notion of the alliance between fear and memory, children surely
remembered not to be too curious and talk with strangers.
The second story, “Iktomi‟s Blanket,” speaks in favour of Carroll‟s theory
of tricksters as selfish buffoons. As Carroll says:
The trickster seeks the immediate gratification of all those sexual
desires (where "sexual" refers to any activity, including sexual
intercourse, excretion, and eating, that produces a diffused sense
of physical pleasure) that all of us have, but which most of us
learn to inhibit as we mature (113).
In this story, Iktomi begs the Great Spirit to give him food, because he is
hungry again, after the wolves have eaten his ducks: “„Oh! I'll go to Inyan, the
great-grandfather, and pray for food!‟ he exclaimed. At once he hurried forth
from his teepee and, with his blanket over one shoulder, drew nigh to a huge
rock on a hillside. With half-crouching, half-running strides, he fell upon Inyan
with outspread hands” (“Iktomi‟s Blanket”). Iktomi sacrifices his blanket, but
after he is given venison, he wants his blanket back. He does not appreciate
what the Great Spirit has done for him, he still wants more. Ultimately, he is left
hungry but with his blanket.
That Iktomi is not grateful for what he has and wants constantly
something else, something better, can be seen as well in another story called
“Iktomi and Fawn.” Iktomi is tired of being his old self and is twice changed by
creatures he adores – a peacock and an arrow, but he breaks the only condition
they gave him and the spell vanishes. In the end, Iktomi wants to have brown
spots on his face like a fawn: “„fawn, my friend, will you do the same for me?
Won't you mark my face with brown, brown spots just like yours?‟ asked
Iktomi, always eager to be like other people” (“Iktomi and the Fawn”). This
desire almost costs Iktomi his own life as he helps to dig his own grave. Maybe
stories like this are the reason why Native American people, at least as
described by Zitkala-Sa, are so thankful and modest – they know that by
wanting more they could lose what they actually have.
Besides, in some stories the morals are explicitly specified and stated.
For example in “Iktomi and Muskrat,” the muskrat is the one who teaches a
lesson to Iktomi and who moralizes. After Iktomi proposes a race for his pot of
boiled fish because he does not want to share, the muskrat is the first to arrive
and eats the fish himself, saying: "Next time, say to a visiting friend, 'Be seated
beside me, my friend. Let me share with you my food.'" Another useful advice,
although not a moral, comes from the mouth of the coyote-trickster, who
outwitted Iktomi: "Another day, my friend, do not take too much for granted.
Make sure the enemy is stone dead before you make a fire!" Such morals
resemble European proverbs and can be easily memorized by children.
Besides, in some of the stories, the moral lesson is expressed in a quite
morbid way – or at least it is so if the stories should serve for moral education
of children. In the story called “Iktomi and the Turtle,” Iktomi, after trying to
win a contest with Patkasa, the turtle, is outwitted by him and drowns in the
river as he is being watched by his children. Although Iktomi is a kind of evil
spirit, his deeds did not call for revenge in the form of killing. Probably, such
end of the story is a part of the already mentioned fear memory strategy; it
should produce fear in order to be remembered by all its readers and listeners.
By describing her life among Native Americans and later also among
„white‟ people in American Indian Stories, Zitkala-Sa made an attempt to show
how Native people live in general – many of them share the same experience
as her. Thus, in her narrative she tried to keep from being too personal.
According to Carpenter, she avoided many biographical details that would make
the text too subjective so that her story could be applied to many others. She
generalized her experiences and thus presented her childhood as the norm for
all Native Americans (12). As Stanley wrote, “Zitkala-Sa attempted to show how
her life is transcribed in the cultural life of her people, or, in Toni Morrison's
words, to demonstrate how „the single solitary life is like the lives of the tribe.‟
Thus, for Zitkala-Sa, the private self is also a cultural construct” (64).
At the same time, thanks to absence of an interpreter or ethnographer in
the process of writing, her narrative is very emotional and sometimes even
intimate. Zitkala-Sa presents Native American life with all its essentials; not only
does she make points about dwelling, gathering food, beadwork and cooking,
storytelling, religion and social norms, but she also describes her inner feelings,
worries and concerns. According to Bataille and Sands, “the [woman‟s]
autobiography does not focus on the public role of the narrator, but rather on
reminiscences of girlhood, family life, pre-reservation life ways, and personal
growth…[These autobiographies] are private lives, allowing the reader glimpses
into the intimate working of individual women‟s experience” (8). Zitkala-Sa‟s
private life thus serves as an illustration of the reservation life in general.
For Zitkala-Sa, it was important to illustrate how her people lived, not only
in order to preserve the customs and traditions and recount social life for the
next generations, but also to educate „whites‟ in a way. At the time when
Zitkala-Sa wrote her stories, not much was known to ordinary Euro-Americans
about how the Native Americans lived, and the images that „whites‟ carried in
their minds were biased by the stories of missionaries who talked about Natives
as of savages. As Hoxie writes,
by describing ancient traditions and recounting tales of their
childhoods, Indian authors could both serve up satisfying,
„authentic‟ experiences and preserve tribal traditions…the authors
assumed the role of a storyteller who could assure white readers
that the tale was authentic, not because it was scientific, but
because it was personal (980).
Zitkala-Sa encounters two cultures during her life, but in her view, these
cultures are interconnected. She blends these two cultures together, and
incorporates into her life elements from both the Christian (or Anglo) culture
and Native American culture. “In short, Zitkala-Sa‟s life story is framed as an
interfusion of cultural practices” (Carpenter 5). Zitkala-Sa grew up on the
reservation, but the lifestyle she experiences is different from the lifestyle of her
ancestors. She speaks English, she can wear the same dress as her Euro-
American peers and she uses „white‟ products – a coffeepot or a canvas instead
of buffalo hide. According to Carpenter, “adapting to whites and their goods is
an essential component for Zitkala-Sa‟s type of Indian” (6). Her ancestors are
not as significant as the bicultural background in which she lives – that is why
she does not begin her autobiography with a detailed genealogy, but rather
introduces the background she lives in and the personalities which are
important for her.
Furthermore, Christianity - as a part of the „white‟ culture - and especially
biblical myths form an essential constituent of Zitkala-Sa‟s narrative. Not only
does she mention these myths and various biblical characters, as for example
the devil or the story of big red apples, but her own story can be seen as a
parallel to some of these myths. According to Kunce, Zitkala-Sa is retelling the
Garden of Eden story: “In casting her mother as God, her brother as Adam, the
missionaries as the Serpent, and herself as Eve, Zitkala-Sa reveals the
catastrophic consequences of forced relinquishment of her language, and
subsequently of her culture” (Kunce 73). At the end, Zitkala-Sa is expelled from
the Garden, because she breaks her mother‟s commandment.
For Zitkala-Sa, the most important aspects of Native American culture
seem to be those she missed in white society – loyalty, hospitability and respect
to other people, but also the connection with nature and spirits. That is why
she tried to carry a piece of her culture with her on the second journey to the
east, which she describes in chapter called “Incurring My Mother‟s Displeasure”:
“In the second journey to the East I had not come without some precautions. I
had a secret interview with one of our best medicine men, and when I left his
wigwam I carried securely in my sleeve a tiny bunch of magic roots. This
possession assured me of friends wherever I should go.” Her portraits of her
favourite environment – the reservation – are vivid and colourful, almost as if
described by a child‟s eyes. Zitkala-Sa very well remembers the feeling of
“roaming around the prairie” in a pair of “soft moccasins.” On the other hand,
in her descriptions of Native American social conventions, Zitkala-Sa tries to
teach her readers how to behave to each other; „in return‟ she learns something
about Euro-American culture as well – for example the language.
In the final analysis, Zitkala-Sa‟s description of her childhood in American
Indian Stories, although autobiographical, “struggles with the predominant
(European, male) paradigm of autobiography, creating a narrative which in
both form and content rejects the notion of a unified, coherent, transcendent
identity achieved through linguistic self-authentication” (Cutter 33). Zitkala-Sa
does not describe her life day by day, event by event. Instead, she points out
the memories or the events which are the most important for her, and lines
them up in a more or less chronological order. We “hear” the stories in virtually
the same form in which Zitkala-Sa used to hear other people‟s stories on the
reservation. Together with the simple, yet emotive language she uses and with
her detailed portrayal of social practices on the reservation, this adds to the
readability and adventurous nature of her memoir.
In Old Indian Legends Zitkala-Sa assumes the role of a translator – she
translates the Native American Legends into English, but she also interprets
these legends so that the „white‟ audience could better understand them. Hoxie
argues that “the Indian authors posed as bearers of an ancient spirit in the
modern age” (981). Thus, by publishing her collection of Native American tales
celebrating the virtues of native culture, Zitkala-Sa “came forward promising to
deliver version of [her] culture that could stand as authentic alternative to the
alienation of modern life” (Hoxie 981). Zitkala-Sa herself wrote in her Old
Indian Legends that “these legends are relics of [her] country‟s once virgin
soil;” by publishing them, she wanted to bring back the inherited Native
American values – as for example hospitability, charitable attitude to other
people and to nature – which were once common to all Native Americans, but
now are “undermined by industrialization and organized religion” (Hoxie 981).
For Zitkala-Sa, the legends of her tribe are equally important as the Bible
for her Christian audience; she shows her resistance to “European American‟s
negative representations of Native life, and to their positive representations of
European American life” (Spack 221). Her legends bring not only amusement,
but also education in form of moral lessons. These morals formed an important
component of Native American upbringing of children.
By asserting a bicultural context, by proving that she is able to study in
the same schools and use the same language as her „white‟ audience, Zitkala-
Sa “redresses the public‟s crude, childish notions of the other as an inferior”
(Carpenter 9). Through her writings, Zitkala-Sa makes a vital link between the
oral tradition of indigenous tribal cultures and the written tradition of literate
colonizers (Stanley 65).
In my opinion, Zitkala-Sa‟s narrative is written in easy-reading and
interesting way, with main focus on her personal feelings and on the way how
she perceived various problems connected with living between the two cultures
back in her childhood. She points out to both the negative and the positive
elements of each of the cultures and makes it possible for the reader to
compare the two societies for himself/herself.
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This bachelor thesis explores various aspects of Native American culture
as reflected in the autobiographical works of Zitkala-Sa, Native American author
known also under name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. In her American Indian
Stories Zitkala-Sa depicts her childhood, her life on the reservation and also her
studies in the Euro-American schools; in Old Indian Legends she tries to
transcribe traditional Native American legends into a language intelligible for
her Euro-American audience.
The thesis points out the peculiar focus of Native American women‟s
memoirs and autobiographies, which are more emotive and intimate than those
written by males. Zitkala-Sa‟s memoir focuses on everyday events as well as
on her personal feelings, worries and concerns. She does not produce a day-by-
day account of her life, but rather acquaints the reader with the aspects of her
culture which are most important for her.
Because Zitkala-Sa belongs among many uprooted Native American
children of her time, her stories and legends connect Native American and
Euro-American/Christian cultures; she constantly blends these two together and
thus produces a bicultural text. This thesis provides evidence of her
biculturalism and illustrates it on particular parts of her narratives.
Tato bakalářská práce se zabývá různými aspekty indiánské kultury, jak
jsou vyobrazeny v autobiografických dílech Zitkala-Sy, indiánské autorky známé
též pod jménem Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. Ve sbírce American Indian Stories
(Indiánské příběhy) Zitkala-Sa líčí své dětství, život v rezervaci a také svá studia
na Euro-Amerických školách; ve sbírce Old Indian Legends se pak snaží přepsat
tradiční indiánské legendy do jazyka srozumitelného i pro její Euro-Americké
Tato práce poukazuje na neobvyklé zaměření memoárů a autobiografií
napsaných indiánskými ženami; tyto autobiografie jsou emotivnější a intimnější
než ty, které byly napsány autory mužského pohlaví. Zitkala-Sin memoár se
zaměřuje na každodenní události stejně jako na její osobní pocity, starosti a
obavy. Zitkala-Sa nepodává výčet svého života den po dni, ale seznamuje
čtenáře s těmi aspekty indiánské kultury, které jsou pro ni nejdůležitější.
Vzhledem k tomu, že Zitkala-Sa patří mezi mnoho vykořeněných
indiánských dětí své doby, její příběhy a legendy v sobě spojují indiánskou a
Euro-Americkou kulturu. Zitkala-Sa neustále mísí tyto dvě kultury a vytváří tak
bikulturální kontext. Tato práce se snaží najít důkaz o jejím bikulturalismu
v jejích dílech a ilustrovat jej na jednotlivých částech jejího vyprávění.