Professor Michelle Graham
U.S. Multicultural Literature
February 20, 2015
: A Laguna Bond Between Man and Nature
Since the existence of mankind, human beings told stories. Even before they could read or write, people shared stories about a great number of things. The topics ranged from the stars to brave hunters to stories of creation, but no matter what the subject, these stories were passed down from generation to generation and allowed human beings to make sense of the world around them. The Laguna Pueblo Indians, one of the many Native American subgroups, is one of the few cultures that still tells stories in the same manner. Leslie Marmon Silko, a proud member of the aforementioned Laguna people, is a fine example of a storyteller. She passes down her values in the form of stories, making them both more accessible and more meaningful to a wider audience. Through her novel,
, Silko illuminates the undeniable importance of a bond between man and his natural environment as well as the sad reality of the diseased Western lifestyle. Silko preaches her message through Tayo, the emotionally scarred protagonist of
, by vividly detailing the connection to his
Pueblo homeland that he so desperately clings to. Although many of the details in her novel rely on the interpersonal relationships that Tayo experiences, Silko’s greatest importances lie in the connection between man and his environment. This environment contains a great many categories; Tayo’s relationship with animals, particularly with the
reappearing mountain lion, his psychological bond to climate, and, finally, his physical and emotional connection to “ceremonies” as well as the stories they contain.
Many of Tayo’s relationships with his Pueblo lifestyle in
are described through his heartfelt connection to the animals in his life. Surrounded by wildlife, Tayo’s reservation constantly receives nonhuman visitors and, as the Laguna people do, they would treat them as equals. Western culture, however, denies the concept of man to animal equality, as proven by the constant hunting and exploitation of natural wildlife.
Tayo’s experiences in World War II introduced him to the destruction that is the Western culture as it was a kill or be killed way of living. In turn, this lifestyle created his longing to reconnect to animals and again be one with them. By recreating this unifying relationship to animals, Tayo can, in his own way, wash himself of the evil he was forced to take part in. Leslie Marmon Silko cleverly links Tayo’s diseased war memories with a physical sickness or pain that he feels inside his stomach. When the protagonist reestablishes his connection to animals, however, the pain disappears. One of the most significant moments in
occurs when Tayo reaches out both physically and spiritually to a passing mountain lion. In a moment of doubt upon finding the missing cattle, Tayo watches a beautiful mountain lion cross his path. It quickly vanishes, “his outline lingering like yellow smoke” (Silko, 196), but leaves him a clue, the pawprints pointing Tayo in the right direction. “Mountain lion, the hunter. Mountain lion, the hunter’s helper” (196), Tayo rightfully notes, as the prints do indeed lead him to the spotted cattle. This complimentary moment between man and animal represents the beauty of Laguna beliefs; that the “hunter” and the “hunted” are not so easily defined.
This moment can easily be compared to the white Texans’ opinion of the mountain lion later on. Upon catching Tayo, the Texans notice the nearby tracks and decide that killing the beast would be a greater victory than messing with an Indian. Tayo listens as they plot to get the lion hounds and promote animal on animal violence as a legitimate method of survival in the Western world. This disgusting display “touch[es] him deep behind his belly,” (203) as the