Little Big Man is 111-year-old Jack Crabb’s account of his life from 1852, when he is ten and most of his family is killed by drunken Indians, to 1876, when he becomes the only white survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. During these twenty-four years, Jack is adopted first by Old Lodge Skins, chief of a small band of Northern Cheyenne, and later by the Reverend Mr. Pendrake and his beautiful, unfaithful young wife. Leaving the Pendrakes, Jack alternates between white and Indian societies, never fitting in comfortably with either. He longs for middle-class comforts, but circumstances and his restless nature block his success.
Jack is constantly being victimized. His white wife and child are stolen by Indians and later killed by the cavalry, as are his Cheyenne wife and their newborn son. Except for Old Lodge Skins, all Jack’s Indian friends are killed—one, ironically, when he is unknowingly about to kill Jack. Jack is shot on four occasions, and only his roguish trickery saves him from being killed in a gunfight by Wild Bill Hickok. The novel builds to General George Armstrong Custer’s fiasco at the Little Bighorn and to the death of Old Lodge Skins, who chooses to die when he recognizes that the destruction of the Indian way of life is inevitable. Despite Berger’s presentation of the American West as violent, melodramatic, and absurd, Little Big Man has lighter moments stemming from a multitude of colorful characters and a plethora of coincidences recalling those in the novels of Dickens.
Always concerned with the differences between reality and the various ways it is perceived, Berger...
(The entire section is 673 words.)