Mean Spirit Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A historical novel based on actual occurrences on oil-rich Oklahoma Indian lands, Mean Spirit tells a story of exploitation and murder committed against Native American Indians as they struggle against the greed that threatens their lives and the survival of their culture.

The background of the novel’s action is provided by Lila Blanket and her daughter Grace. Repeating the warning the Blue River has “spoken” to her, Lila tells the other Hill Indians that white people are going to intrude upon the tribe’s peaceful ways; to prevent their own downfall, she says, they must send some of their children to town to learn the white ways. Lila sends Grace to live with her friends the Grayclouds, hoping she will grow up and protect the Hill people with her knowledge. Grace, however, takes little interest in the old Indian ways, acquires an allotment of land, and strikes the richest oil vein in the territory. Her discovery of oil in the territory does indeed save the Hill people, as the current building of a dam on the Blue River is discontinued. Yet the riches that come to the Indian community also destroy it.

Near the beginning of the novel, Grace Blanket is murdered. Grace’s thirteen-year-old daughter Nola and her friend Rena, hidden in the river mud, witness the brutal killing and watch as the unidentifiable murderers arrange Grace’s body to suggest suicide. Because the killers are unaware of the witnesses, Belle and Moses Graycloud keep the children’s knowledge secret in hope of protecting Nola, who, though she is constantly guarded by four mystical hill “runners,” also brings a threat to the entire Graycloud family.

Grace’s murder is only one of many that have recently occurred in Watona and is the first of many murders and atrocities to be committed in the plot of the novel. Grace’s sister, Sara, is blown up, and Benoit, her husband, is wrongfully arrested. The local hermit dies of seemingly natural causes on the same night that John Thomas is shot...

(The entire section is 821 words.)

Mean Spirit Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Allen, Paula Gunn. “Let Us Hold Fierce: Linda Hogan.” In The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Allen discusses Hogan’s awakening to her own spirit-based ideology and how Hogan incorporates this vision in her work. Hogan, an activist, uses her work to educate readers on the politics of Indian survival. Allen examines the fusion of spirituality and political commitment that dominates Hogan’s work.

Bonaham, R. A. “Mean Spirit.” Studies in American Indian Literatures: Newsletter of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures. (Winter, 1992): 114-116. Bonaham outlines the setting, events, and characters of the novel. He then examines the “spare phrasing and power of visualization” that Hogan, as a poet, brings to her prose. In conclusion, Bonaham attributes the power of Mean Spirit to Hogan’s integration of traditional ritual and historical fact.

Brice, Jennifer. “Earth as Mother, Earth as Other in Novels by Silko and Hogan.” Critique 39 (Winter, 1998): 127-138. Brice explores the concept of earth as mother in Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan and the work of Leslie Marmon Silko. She discusses the use of literary trope and Magical Realism to portray the earth as human and the human as the earth, and demonstrates that the suffering of humanity stems from the aggression of “motherless” men.

Smith, Patricia Clark. “Linda Hogan.” In This Is About Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers, edited by William Balassi, John F. Crawford, and Annie O. Eysturoy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990. Smith explores Hogan’s position as an American writer focusing on Southwestern culture. She also looks at Hogan’s themes and their niche within this group of writers.