Style and Technique
Harjo, who is a gifted painter as well as a writer, has commented that she approaches writing in much the same way as a painter creates a painting. Her use of flashbacks is similar to a painter’s technique. Just as a painter covers a canvas with a series of images that suggest something deeper than the images themselves, Whirling Soldier’s memories are images that indicate his deep pain, his inner conflict, and need for wholeness. Although his memories of war, childhood, and early adulthood seem to describe very distinct periods of his life, the central image of the northern lights connects them together. Because the story shifts back and forth in time, the appearance of the northern lights is important in lending continuity to the story. Telling a story in nonlinear fashion is a common characteristic of Native American literature. In the case of “The Northern Lights,” this mode of storytelling also mimics the way the human mind thinks and remembers and is an effective way to reveal Whirling Soldier’s psychological state.