Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Black Elk Speaks is the work of two collaborators: Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man who tells his life story, and John G. Neihardt, a white man sensitive to American Indian culture, who interviewed Black Elk at the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1931 and fleshed out and gave artistic form to Black Elk’s account. Black Elk tells the adventure story of a young Sioux boy as he grows into adulthood.
Black Elk had early memories of a father wounded in the Fetterman Fight against the Wasichus (white men), which at first seemed only like a bad dream that he did not understand. Then came a growing awareness of the white man and first seeing one when he was ten years old. His grandfather made him a bow and arrows when he was five years old, and with the other boys he had played at killing Wasichus. There were the times when an older man named Watanye took him hunting or down to a creek’s woods to go fishing or told him funny stories like that of the misadventures of High Horse in his courtship of a chief’s daughter. He had memories of playing pranks with the other boys—chopping off the top of the flagpole at Fort Robinson, teasing the people during a dance—and of endurance contests such as the breast dance, in which the boys burned sunflower seeds on their wrists and tried to keep them there without crying.
Black Elk’s account includes memories of famous chiefs he had known: Red Cloud, who was too friendly with the white men; the...
(The entire section is 1812 words.)
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