Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Louise Erdrich’s story can be viewed through the lenses of both modern history and American Indian cultural mores. From the mid-1960’s to the mid-1970’s, the United States drafted thousands of men to fight in the Vietnam War. Because the warrior tradition is a key concept in Native American culture, the number of American Indian men serving in the military is among the highest of any ethnic group. As warriors, Native American men uphold the honor of their tribe and prove themselves as men. A warrior puts his life on the line as the ultimate sacrifice to ensure his people’s survival. Facing death in battle is a spiritual rite of passage and an important step in gaining respect and status in the Native American community.
When Henry volunteers for active duty, he is maintaining these distinctive cultural values. However, serving in the white man’s war leaves Henry psychologically fragile and emotionally lost. One of the more grotesque images Erdrich uses to illustrate the extreme damage to Henry’s psyche is the blood dripping down his chin after he has bitten through his lip while watching television. He does not notice that he is bleeding when he sits down at the dinner table and begins to eat. Lyman notes that Henry is swallowing his own blood as it mixes with the bread in his mouth. Vietnam veterans from many different backgrounds suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after they returned home from the war, but Henry’s case is made...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
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