Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles is an unorthodox narrative. A work of mixed genres, the book incorporates materials from the indigenous and mainstream literary traditions. The novel follows the traditional framework of the emergence myth, which involves the cyclical destruction and creation of the world; an integral part of the myth is the survival and renewal of the tribe through migration. Because of its experimental techniques and language, however, Bearheart has also been associated with postmodernism.
The novel opens with a preface, entitled “Letter to the Reader,” by Saint Louis Bearheart, a bear-spirit who hovers above the cabinets of files of tribal histories in a government building. Invaded by a sense of darkness (hence the title of the first edition), he turns into the fictional author of “The Heirship Chronicles: Proude Cedarfair and the Cultural Word Wars,” a futuristic narrative about the flight of Proude and his wife from the cedar nation, his adventures with a group of followers, and the achievement of his vision quest. The “pilgrimage” represents a migration from “the third world” to the fourth, and hence alludes to American Indian myths of emergence and the end of the world. The narrative is replete with hyperbolic and incredible events and details (including cannibalism and graphic acts of sex and violence) that are simultaneously shocking and amusing.
“The Heirship Chronicles” begins with the encroachment of whites upon the “cedar circus” around Migis Sandridge, a sacred site. Proude Cedarfair, the last in a line of tribal leaders, resists white exploitation of the remaining trees during an energy crisis. His cabin is burned down; he and his wife Rosina, together with seven clown crows, go into exile.
At the Scapehouse on Callus Road, they visit a commune of thirteen women poets. Bigfoot (Benoit Saint Plumero), a trickster who resides there, is the object of these women’s desire. With Bigfoot, Proude and Rosina continue with their journey in a rare silver cabriolet that the women have given them. Along the way, they pick up Belladonna, but soon their car is ripped apart by racist killers of drunk Indians. Walking along the...
(The entire section is 910 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Armstrong, Meg. “ Buried in Fine White Ash’: Violence and the Reimagination of Ceremonial Bodies in Winter in the Blood and Bearheart.” The American Indian Quarterly 21 (Spring, 1997): 265-298. Armstrong explores the themes of power, transformation, and identity. She argues that the texts must be read with the understanding of ceremony and the body.
Blair, Elizabeth. “Text as Trickster: Postmodern Language Games in Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart.” MELUS 20 (Winter, 1995): 75-90. Blair focuses on Vizenor’s use of the trickster text in Bearheart to link the written word with the mythic aspects of the story. She demonstrates that the trickster is part of the satirical language in storytelling that tribal people use to understand themselves, as well as the truth.
Bruchac, Joseph. Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987. Contains “Follow the Trickroutes: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor,” in which the author discusses his career and his use of history in his writing.
Hochbruck, Wolfgang. “Breaking Away: The Novels of Gerald Vizenor.” World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 274-278. An overview of Vizenor’s fiction, focusing on its unorthodox and disruptive elements.
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