Thematically, Mankiller is more an American Indian version of the formative history of the United States than it is an autobiography. There is a certain amount of justified bitterness present in the work, particularly in relation to the forced relocation of the Cherokees and the paternalistic attitude of the white majority toward them. More than that, however, the work is a culmination of one woman’s struggle to overcome adversity and to survive in a world where the stigma of being a double minority was often overwhelming. Wilma Mankiller is the epitome of strength and the survivor of constant battles: childhood prejudice because she was Cherokee, adult prejudice because she was female, an authoritarian husband, an automobile accident which forced her to undergo seventeen operations (and ironically killed a friend who was driving the other car), surgery and drug therapy for myasthenia gravis neuromuscular disease, a kidney transplant, and the daily trials of securing funding and autonomy for her people.
Although the rambling pattern of Mankiller is sometimes confusing, it can also be regarded by the historian as an overview of Cherokee history, from civilized innocence before the European invasion through battles and wars and relocation to the return of self-government and cultural preservation in the late twentieth century. According to Mankiller, Cherokee history and her life as an individual member of the tribe have involved a quest for the return of “sacred balance.” Perhaps this work stands as the scale on which that balance can be weighed.