Take Your Medicine
The Round House
By Louise Erdrich
Harper, 336 pages
The ghost of the Indian haunts the American imagination, writes D.H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature. The history of contact between America’s original inhabitants and the European descendants who pushed them off their native lands is a record of mutual hatred and unspeakable cruelty on both sides, but now that the Indians are no longer a physical threat, a “minority of whites intellectualize the Red Man and laud him to the skies,” Lawrence writes. “But this minority of whites is mostly a high-brow minority with a big grouch against its own whiteness.”
For almost two centuries, the Indian as he existed in American culture was the creature of this high-brow minority. The 19th-century romantic novelists (James Fenimore Cooper, William Gilmore Simms, Helen Hunt Jackson) compensated for a lack of direct knowledge with sympathetic celebration. They were suc-ceeded by writers who tried to muffle the sounds of their own origins by speaking in Indian voices: Mary Austin, whose play The Arrow-Maker, set among the Paiutes, was brought to Broadway in 1911 by the Shubert brothers; Oliver La Farge, whose novel Laughing Boy, told from a young Navajo’s point of view, took home the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for 1929; and John G. Neihardt, whose famous Black Elk Speaks (1932) transcribed the monologues of an Ogala Sioux medicine man who had survived both Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre.
About the Author
D.G. Myers, literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University, writes our fiction chronicle and is the author of the Literary Commentary blog.