Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Jailing of Cecelia Capture is an apologia, an explanation and justification of the central character. Its objective is to illustrate how and why Cecelia came to be the way she is, in herself and in relation to her culture. Since her major quality is perseverance, the novel seems at times almost like a promotional manual for that trait. Cecelia’s life is a progressive and continuing overcoming; her motto might well be, “That won’t stop me.”

This focus, however, is not as transparent as it seems in summary, primarily because the novel establishes starkly just how formidable the obstacles facing her are. The example of her father is constantly before her. He had been, after all, a respected elder of the tribe, often a member of the tribal council before he was impeached for drinking in office; he had volunteered for service during World War II, at a time when Indians were not American citizens and had to give up their native names to enter the Armed Forces; and he had a career as a prizefighter. Yet he did not live up to his own father’s measure; Eagle Capture had served as tribal judge, designing the legal norms that gained status for the tribal government under the laws of the country. Will was educated at the white high school, entirely so that he could gain the college degree expected of his father’s son. Even though his football skills earned him a college scholarship, however, he proved unable to keep up academically, and his...

(The entire section is 419 words.)