English 321 – The Western Novel

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Discussion Questions: Fools Crow


  1. Some scholars of Native American literature claim that essentially, Native Americans don’t think the way non-Native Americans do: This distinction is partly one of tribal consciousness as opposed to the consciousness of urbanized, industrial cultures, but it is also a distinction between new world and old world thought, between systems based on wholeness and those based on division and separation. American tribal narratives reflect a sense of events as occurring in an extended, circular, unified field of interaction. The European-American pattern of tying significance to conflict resolution and thus to causation is largely an incidental feature in tribal narratives, where developments are dependent for their meaning on ritual rules of ordering.

How does Fools Crow fit this brief description of Native American literature? In what ways does it seem to depart from the description?


  1. One critic of Fools Crow suggests that the book is both the pursuit of a personal identity and a tribal identity. How so?
  2. Again myth is an important part of this novel. In what ways does Fools Crow adhere to Claude Levi-Strauss’s dictum that “on the one hand, a myth always refers to events alleged to have taken place long ago. But what gives the myth an operational value is that the specific pattern described is timeless; it explains the past as well as the future.” How is the myth of Fools Crow timeless? How does it speak to the Blackfeet?
  3. Fools Crow is also classified as an epic. How does the novel meet these four criteria for that genre? (1) Subject matter, (2) Inclusiveness, (3) Structure, and (4) Theme.
  4. Ethnic and minority literature is sometimes challenged by “traditionalists” who view this literature perhaps as cultural or historical artifacts, but not deserving of serious critical attention. Without getting the debate about the canon, or the definition of “literature,” defend Fools Crow as a great book.
  5. It is common today to define myths as dramatic or narrative embodiments of a people’s perception of the deepest truths. Writers of myths stir within us something at once familiar and strange, giving concrete expression to whatever is deep and primitive within us all. If myth is indeed a structure of unconsciously held value systems, an expression of the general beliefs of a people, an embodiment of ideology, then what role does myth play in your life? What myths define you? What myths are common to all of us? When and where do we learn those myths?

  6. Many historians from the 19th century (and even into the twentieth century) believed that the western expansion of the United States into “Indian Territory” was sanctified by an abiding manifest destiny. The Indian people simply had to make way for the progress of an “advanced civilization.” How does Fools Crow challenge our assumptions about an “advanced civilization”? What did you learn from the text about the Blackfeet Indians’ view of life, death, the land, relationships, community, and religion? How did this novel increase your cultural awareness of at least one Native American tribe?
  7. Do some research on the Blackfeet tradition of the “vision quest,” or the purpose of the “sweat bath,” or the “sun dance,” or any Blackfeet tales and report on your research.
  8. What questions do you have about Fools Crow? Write your questions and be prepared to lead a discussion of those questions.
  9. Choose a passage, a scene, a character in the novel that provoked you, amused you, saddened you, confused you, or angered you. Why did this part of Fools Crow impress you?