Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The implied moral of Paula Gunn Allen’s story is that the fates suffered by Ray and Jackie are the consequences of their sexist, derogatory, and nontraditional attitudes toward Native American women. There is an instructive, retributive quality underlying the inversion of gender mistreatment. Firmly rooted in the didactic, allegorical, and oral Native American storytelling tradition, the story is meant to teach a lesson, to model an ideal for comportment in general, and particularly behavior between the sexes.

Jackie’s slide into alcoholism and premature death can be viewed as his punishment for viewing women as sexual objects and for his dim-witted passivity. Ray notices the women’s deerlike feet, but Jackie does not. Ray asks pertinent questions about the women’s identity, but Jackie merely shrugs silently. Ray inquires about where they have been taken, but Jackie lapses into an almost catatonic passivity. Of the two men, Jackie is the more overtly sexist: “Well, I used to say I’d walk a mile for a camel . . . but I didn’t say anything about snags.”

Doubling the male victims allows Allen to prosecute her attack on un-Indian male behavior (Jackie), while simultaneously offering Ray some hope. The latter is evinced by Ray’s awakening to the realities of the situation (“maybe those old guys know something, eh?”), his perception of the underlying reasons for Jackie’s death (for telling “what he wasn’t supposed to...

(The entire section is 458 words.)