Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Skillfully juxtaposing himself between two worlds, the Native American culture from which he sprang and the post-Maoist culture with which he became involved as a language teacher in China, Vizenor discovers common threads that unite the two. He does not and cannot, nevertheless, blind himself to the excesses of the Chinese government, to the cruel control of every aspect of human existence with which the government concerns itself. Opposition is squelched summarily, frequently by the execution of dissidents, and a hypocritical, puritanical bureaucracy deals with moral turpitude in equally unforgiving ways.

Griever’s rooster, Matteo Ricci, serves as an alarm clock to the residents in the guest house of the language institute. Vizenor wonders, however, whether such an alarm clock is needed: The beginning of each day is heralded by blasts from loudspeakers that play the propagandistic anthem “The East Is Red,” which is broadcast throughout China every morning as the sun slowly appears on the distant horizon.

Late one night in Tianjin, however, Griever steals from the guest house, climbs on a bamboo ladder to a broken window in the security-tight administration building, and patches his own tape into the recording of the song to which one-fifth of the world’s population awakens every morning. In that section of Tianjin, “The East Is Red” is replaced that morning by the rousing strains of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and the U.S....

(The entire section is 609 words.)