Soul Catcher Essay - Essays and Criticism

Frank Herbert

Essays and Criticism

Hidden Connections Between the Hiker and the Protagonist

Frank Herbert’s Soul Catcher was published in 1972, during the heyday of the hippie movement. Although his book is not dated by the inclusion of a hippie-type young man hiking through the woods, the significance of the character of Vince Debay might have carried more weight in the 1970s, when young hippie-types were prevalent on college campuses. Today, Vince’s character might represent a young environmentalist or a pot-smoking follower of the Grateful Dead. In the 1970s, however, reader might have seen something more complex in Vince’s character and thus something more significant happening between him and the protagonist Charles Hobuhet-Katsuk. They might have understood that this scene represented more than a chance encounter between two young men who, at one time, were college classmates.

Herbert prefaces the scene of Katsuk and Vince’s meeting in the forest with an editorial statement that Katsuk had previously sent to the University of Washington’s student newspaper. In his statement, Katsuk refers to some of the inspirations of the hippie movement during the 1960s and 1970s, such as the fight for civil rights, but he also accuses the young people of hypocrisy: “You say you would risk anything to achieve equal happiness for all. But your words risk nothing,” he wrote. The young people’s beliefs, Katsuk held, were “fragmented,” because they did not see their own “self-imposed limitations.” He continued: “You exist in constant tension between tyranny and victimization.”

During those turbulent decades of the 1960s and 1970s, many young college students were caught between tearing down the beliefs of their parents and trying to create new philosophies of their own to replace them. American culture had a relatively short history, so looking backward through time provided the young rebels with very little inspiration. Their American ancestors, for the most part, had come from Europe and Africa, countries that were too far removed from them and therefore did not provide the kind of answers that they were looking for. What developed in this void was a tendency among some youth to look to Native- American culture for answers. There was hope that the Native-American traditional culture might provide a possible alternative to their own lifestyles. Books that explained various aspects of Native-American philosophy and traditional culture such as Black Elk Speaks (originally published in 1932), Carlos Castandeda’s Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971) were widely read and taken to heart, as many young people adopted personal interpretations of Native- American lives and tried to emulate them. The long hair and the wearing of braids and headbands were a direct reflection of more than just a rebellion against the stereotypical teenager of the previous generation. It was also an expression of camaraderie with the Native-American people, albeit a somewhat romantic version, as most youth had little, or no, contact with contemporary Native Americans. Their visions of Native-American life had little to do with the problems of alcoholism, unemployment, and a loss of culture and land, as Herbert’s character Katsuk and his people were experiencing.

So when Katsuk notices Vince bounding down the wilderness trail, he sees a lot more than just a former classmate. Vince, in many ways, represents the hippie movement. He is described as a young man with long hair “bound at the forehead by a red bandanna,” which gave him a “curiously aboriginal look.” In other words, Vince is portrayed as a pseudo-Indian, or “wanna-be.” He might “curiously” bear the look of a Native American, but even David, the thirteen-year-old captive, can see that there are wide gaps in Vince’s disguise. First, Vince walks in a marijuana-induced stupor, glancing “neither right nor left,” unaware of his surroundings and of the imposing danger that awaits him, so unlike the way that Katsuk moves through the forest. Vince also walks with “a stiff, heel-first stride that jarred the ground,” announcing his presence, disturbing the quiet of the forest. In contrast to Katsuk’s stalking movements, Vince stomps through the forest. Hence, he plays out Katsuk’s reference to the “tension between tyranny and victimization.” Vince walks through the wilderness as if he owns it, unaware, and unequipped to deal with, the vast danger that is about to pounce on him in the form of Katsuk. For his part, even David realizes that Vince is incapable of saving himself. Something inside of David comprehends that Vince, maybe even more than David himself, is not a savior but rather is yet another victim.

Just prior to Vince’s appearance, Katsuk had “felt an odd fear that he would find his secret name carved some place.” As he looked around at his surroundings, he wondered where this name might appear. What form would it take? “He wondered if there were any thing in these mountains with the power to set his universe in perfect order once more.” Shortly after this statement, Vince shows up. The connection between these two events makes it obvious that in some way Katsuk relates to Vince. Could it be that the name that Katsuk is looking for is written all over Vince? Wasn’t Kat- suk, at one time, just like Vince? When Katsuk first sees Vince in...

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