Like elegiac poems, “Lullaby” depicts the process of coming to terms with death and loss. Ayah has much to grieve: the death of her eldest son in an incomprehensible and distant war; the deaths in infancy of other children; the forced removal and then deliberate alienation of her two remaining children; the long estrangement from her husband, Chato.
Intertwined with these human deaths is the great loss of heritage, culture, and way of life. There will be no children and grandchildren to teach and nurture as Ayah had been educated and cared for by her mother and grandmother. Art, religion, language, natural history—all is being lost. Even the sacred compact with the earth seems broken in the persistent drought. Where once the land had produced all that the people needed—wool and bright dyes for strong, waterproof blankets, leather for leggings and shoes, meat hung on the rafters to dry—Ayah and Chato now find themselves reduced to the dull army blanket, boots with holes in them, and a meager welfare check that buys only dead flour and tinned peaches.
The harshness and emptiness of present life is reflected in the human society of strangers surrounding the Navajos. After Jimmy dies, the government can offer nothing for her grief but his corpse. Clinical efficiency rather than feeling or tradition rules in the white world into which Danny and Ella disappear. Fear and hostility similarly characterize the bartender and his patrons, who...
(The entire section is 516 words.)