Literature has inspired generations to change and become more open minded leading us on the path to a harmonious lifestyle today, writes Brigitte Ferguson.
The easiest way for one to effectively communicate culture is through literature, even if the stories passed through generations are now bound between two thick pieces of cardboard, culture remains alive. ‘I Heard the Owl Call my Name’ is a mixture of newly written and thoroughly researched stories and old tales; it broadens the horizons of all the readers with the stories of the tribal people as well as showing the influence the western world has had. Margaret Craven is an American novelist best known for documenting the culture of the Kwakiutl tribe in her first novel ‘I Heard the Owl Call my Name.’ Literature in modern society and bridges the gap between modern and traditional cultures and encourages change.
The Kwakiutl tribe is found along the coast of Vancouver Island. They are best known for their optimistic outlook on life and death and their passion for tradition. Slowly their culture is being eroded by the influence of the European world. Items, such as alcohol, have a very negative influence on the tribe; it encourages them to make bad decisions which they may later regret. More positive impacts would be education, which allows the children of the tribe to learn but it also draws them away from the tribe. As Mrs Hudson says of Keetah’s sister, ‘To watch her go is to die a little.’ (p53).
Literature often represents foreign cultures in a positive light. It allows the reader to fully understand the beliefs and religious decisions they make; for example the Kwakiutl tribe is represented as a culture that does not fear death but instead respects it as a natural part of life. The tribe understands to not take more than what is needed from the land as without it they will be fast-tracking their own death. This is a vital message to learn as it shows the readers that though death is not to be feared and is unavoidable, it is also not to be encouraged and that there is a fine line between inviting death inside or grasping it and asking for it to take you.
The Kwakiutls are very aware of the ongoing erosion of their culture and the effect the white man has had on them. The elders are the most conscious as they see the younger people of the tribe leave to get an education in the white man’s world and they return almost a whole new person. It is quite bitter-sweet as they know it is a good thing for the children, but it is hard to watch as their culture is slowly fading away. Gradually children are forgetting the old tales and the language spoken within the Kwakiutl tribe and at this point in time very few people still speak the language. (Redish & Lewis, 2013).
The white man’s world has deeply affected the American Indian culture by introducing a large amount of new material to the tribe. Alcohol has had a continuous negative impact; it can deeply affect a person into making poor decisions. These decisions can result in selling away the culture and the memories with it; an example of this is on page 59 of the book where Keetah’s uncle sells the priceless and irreplaceable mask. The book touches delicately on this topic to avoid any hurt feelings but it also gives enough detail to open the readers’ eyes and let them see what is really happening.
The themes in the novel are very important to not only the Kwakiutl tribe but also teach a valuable lesson to all cultures. The main theme expressed in the book is about dealing with loss and the attitudes towards death. As a tribe they teach others to not fear the inevitable but instead accept it as part of the journey and to live every moment to its fullest. Leading up to Marks death the swimmer forebodes what is to happen; as Mark was represented by the swimmer. As Jim tells Mark ‘The whole life … is one of courage and adventure. All of it builds to the climax and the end… he has spent