Native American literature is one of the unique aspects to study if you are interested in learning about the indigenous cultures that once lived in North America. To truly immerse yourself in this field, you need to embrace a multifaceted approach which encompasses the aesthetic, linguistic, psychological, historical, and cultural aspects. If you have an essay coming up on this subject, here are 14 facts that will set you on the right path.
- Native American literature does not have one language. Even before delving into the details of themes, context, and content, you are faced with the challenge of understanding the classification. The Native American culture comprised of a myriad of different languages and tribes. Anthropologists and linguists have classified Native American languages according to similarity in grammatical structure and the geographical proximity of the speakers. The former basis of categorization results in fifty-eight major language families whereas the latter has nine major categories. Each of the nine categories has around ten to twenty tribes associated with it. The nine regions are: Mackenzie River, North Pacific Coast, Plains, Woodland, California, Southeastern, Eskimo, Plateau, and Southwestern.
- Most literature revolves around man’s connection with the land. An essential theme observed in both ancient myths and contemporary Native American literature is the deep connection between the identity of the people and the land they inhabit. The writings show that the culture considers the land as dynamic. Therefore, they surpass closeness to nature, creating a more complex link between the land and a person’s being or ego. Even a rudimentary study of this type of literature will reveal this aspect.
- Oral stories are a major part of this form of literature. Early Native American Literature contains fascinating tales, songs, chants, and prayers passed down through oral traditions. They are told using archaic language and make liberal use of literary devices such as repetition and enumeration. Some languages, for instance Papago (the language of the Tohono O’odham Nation) and Pima (the language of the Akimel O’odham), contained specific structures for oral stories. A story would have four parts; it would start out with an introduction of a stable and harmonious situation, go on to describe a disruption of stability, then tell of the efforts to restore harmony before concluding. The efforts were often told in cycles of four.
- Native American authors effectively shine the light on Native American literature. In 1969, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to N. Scott Momaday for his novel ‘House Made of Dawn’. The novel has received critical acclaim and is considered pivotal in bringing Native American literature into mainstream culture. The Native American Renaissance highlights a major theme which many contemporary Native American publications share: the alienated individual who feels torn between two worlds and yearns to find an identity. Some major authors who gained popularity after the rekindling of interest are James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, and Louise Erdrich.
- Native American literature was not documented in writing at first. When the first Europeans arrived in America, there were over 500 different Native American tribes living here. Each of these tribes had rich history and culture, but their literature was not documented in writing. Their numerous legends, tales, songs and myths were preserved through oral transmission. Thankfully, they managed to survive time, which is why you can enjoy the difference between the tales of the Navajo hunters and the pueblo-dwellers known as Acoma.
- Repetition of myths ensured their survival. The survival of a myth in the pre-literate Native American times depended on how often it was repeated. The more popular the tale was, the more often it was repeated and the better it retained its plot points. As it spread across to other places, the folktale would take on features unique to the local culture. This phenomenon can serve as a means to track mythology across time and space.
- There are different approaches to critiquing Native American literature, but one goal. Literary critics and theorists are not in complete agreement about how to approach Native American literary criticism. There is a difference in opinion regarding whether to employ modern approaches or only Native American theories. The goal, however, is the same: to avoid misinterpretations and break down the centuries-long silencing of Native American voices.
- Christian Missionaries in America influenced the literature. With the arrival of Christian missionaries in America, the culture, and therefore the literature of the indigenous tribes evolved. The written Native American literary tradition began in the eighteenth century. Samson Occum published his “Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian” and William Apess wrote his “Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe”.
- The Native American Renaissance Era offers a wealth of contemporary literature. The Native American Renaissance era witnessed the production of many prominent works of contemporary Native American literature. A few notable authors are: Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), Wendy Rose (Hopi-Miwok), Ray Young Bear (Mesquaki), Roberta Hill (Oneida), and Joy Harjo (Creek).
- Literary traditions were inspired from their own surroundings. The literary traditions of Native Americans were largely influenced by their environment and surroundings. Even the creation stories of different tribes reflect environmental elements. Native American ceremonies and everyday life were also dictated by the topography of the area. The Papago tribe used to undertake a Salt Pilgrimage to reach distant salt deposits.
- Native American literature and tribes’ identities are related. Literature and identity are closely linked. Kelly Morgan, a Native American cultural expert claims that fiction and poetry serve as a better gauge of the cultural identities of people than scientific records. Literature is also more dynamic because it extends the cultural identity over to future generations. Communities of past, present and play a future role in molding and transformation of literature.
- Several works revolve around the loss of sense of self. One of the major themes in Native American literature is the loss of a sense of self. A deeply felt presence of absence lies in the thoughts and actions of the protagonists. The loss of land and culture is reflected in the writings of contemporary and eighteenth to nineteenth century literature. D’Arcy McNickle’s novel “The Surrounded” is a good example of this.
- Nature is also part of Native American literature due to its relationship with people. A prevalent thread running through almost all of Native American literature is the interconnectedness of nature and humans. Cultural and personal identity is related to nature in many works. Authors allude to this connection using metaphors. The works of Rosario Morales, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich are among the ones which illustrate this theme beautifully.
- The first novel to be published by a Native Indian author was “The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta”. John Rollin Ridge published “The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta” in 1854, telling the story of a mixed-race protagonist who becomes an outlaw and tries to defy the dominant culture and unjust treatments of the white people in frontier California.
These are some general facts which you can study further and elaborate on while writing a literary analysis paper. You can also check the 20 topics on Native American literature for a literary analysis for more assistance. Need more help? Check how to write a literary analysis on Native American literature to score a great grade.
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