Mari Sandoz adopts an empathetic approach to her subjects and their situations. Her work is fortified by numerous interviews and extensive documentary research in libraries and archives. This vital event in Cheyenne history is told primarily through the personal stories and experiences of the principal American Indian participants.
Cheyenne Autumn articulates several social and personal issues that confront many young adults, including questions about ethnic identity and trusting people from other races and cultures; the reciprocity and interchangeability of male and female roles; the personal capacity for leadership, honor, hardship, and adaptive change; and attitudes toward violence, retribution, and forgiveness.
Sandoz portrays people with moral flaws as well as a potential for rectitude and generosity. Although her word choices are highly circumspect, Sandoz does not sidestep acts of brutality, including rape, mutilation, murder, and infanticide. Her references to bodily elimination, sexual awakening, and married love are candid and appropriate without being gratuitous or inflammatory. Compassion and treachery are evidenced by Cheyennes as well as by white people, with no race having a monopoly on either virtue or corruption. The fundamental villains in Cheyenne Autumn are institutionalized social patterns: deceitful government policies, economic opportunism, and barbaric racism. Empathetic readers are challenged to weigh...
(The entire section is 431 words.)