Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mean Spirit’s central theme is the recognition that the survival of Indian culture is dependent on the survival of the natural world. The discovery of oil and the subsequent intrusion of whites into the Indian life of Watona initiates the deterioration of the community. The obsession with material goods, drinking, and gambling separates the Hill Indians from those living in town. Grace, who has little interest in old ways, desires electricity and china. When her daughter Nola, feeling threatened by the frequent murders and pervasive greed, marries Will, she too chooses to live in a European-style house; she buys numerous glass figurines, although her husband prefers earth and clay artifacts. Grace is murdered, and Nola experiences a complete nervous breakdown, ending only after she has murdered her own husband.

Drinking is invariably connected with gambling, initially showing the Indian culture’s lack of emphasis on material goods. Hogan says that the novel’s Indians have no concern about losing their possessions and merely enjoy the game of gambling; however, the pleasure in betting grows out of control, until men are gambling away their sacred pipes and women their sacred dancing shawls. The moral deterioration of the community is followed by many murders, a literal extinction of the people. Seventeen murders in six months have occurred near the start of the novel, and numerous characters die during the story. The Indians in town simply disappear. Originally, the town had belonged to the Indians,...

(The entire section is 623 words.)