English 321 – The Western Novel
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Discussion Questions: Fools
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?
One critic of Fools Crow suggests that the book is both the pursuit
of a personal identity and a tribal identity. How
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
What questions do you have about Fools Crow? Write
your questions and be prepared to lead a discussion of those questions.
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?