Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Any truly picaresque novel is satiric, and Berger tries to explode certain Western myths in Little Big Man. The heroes of legend are not all that heroic. Kit Carson denies hard-luck Jack a handout, Wyatt Earp knocks him out for belching, and Wild Bill Hickok is a tired, sad, paranoid man. Berger makes fun of naïve acceptance of the clichés of Hollywood’s version of the West. Mrs. Winifred Burr, nurse to the hypochondriac Ralph Fielding Snell, does not believe Jack’s claim about surviving Little Bighorn because she has seen a film in which all whites are killed, and Snell knows that Crazy Horse wore a war bonnet of feathers because he bought it from a dealer “of the highest integrity.” Although Berger presents a positive view of Indians, he debunks the image of the noble-savage. Jack sees them as “crude, nasty, smelly, lousy, and ignorant.” Their camps stink, they eat dogs, and their women and children mutilate wounded enemies. Their arrogance annoys Jack: “The greatest folk on earth! Christ, they wouldn’t have had them iron knives if Columbus hadn’t hit these shores. And who brought them the pony in the first place?” Berger’s point is that the West is so beclouded by myth that the truth about it can never be known. Eyewitness accounts—even Jack Crabb’s—are untrustworthy because of the way things are twisted to make them fit preconceptions and fulfill stereotypes.

Little Big Man satirizes romantic illusions in general. After their wagon train is attacked, Jack’s sister Caroline...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Little Big Man Social Concerns / Themes

Little Big Man contains much social comment and criticism. Most obviously, the novel champions the cause of the American Indian...

(The entire section is 776 words.)