Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Rita Joe, a simple, romantic young American Indian woman. She moves to the city to escape the stagnation of life on her reservation, but things go wrong: She loses her job and is arrested repeatedly for a variety of offenses, such as vagrancy and prostitution. At the mercy both of a legal system she does not understand and of people who view her as inhuman, Rita ends up serving time in prison. Her dreams of a good life conflict with memories of a life that was simpler but one that was dominated by white people’s ideas about religion and education. Figures from Rita’s past appear and reappear, serving to highlight the conflicts between Native American concerns and the ways of the white culture. Despite pleas from her father to come home, Rita stays in the city. Chronically hungry, tired, and ill from living on the streets, she is finally raped and murdered.
Jaimie Paul, an idealistic, impetuous young American Indian. He argues with the chief of his tribe that life on the land holds no future and that Indians must adopt white people’s ways if they are to get ahead. Like his childhood friend Rita, Jaimie opts for the comforts and fast pace of life in the city. Once there, he gets a job and rejoices in the good life it promises. Jaimie does not succeed in bridging the gap between the two cultures either; he loses his job and starts to drink. He balks at accepting charity; his dignity compels him to refuse free food and clothing despite the fact that he is starving and penniless. Frustrated and angry, he assaults Mr. Homer and ends up doing a short prison term. Following his release from jail, he and Rita go out on a date to celebrate. He is beaten and thrown in front of a train while attempting to defend her from the Murderers.
(The entire section is 747 words.)
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