Study Guide

Storyteller

by Leslie Marmon Silko

Storyteller Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The unifying theme of the short stories and poems of Storyteller might be considered Silko’s life itself. Punctuated with photographs of the Laguna reservation and surrounding landscape, often taken by her father, Storyteller seeks to assert the importance and vitality of an oral culture. Many of the tales included were told to Silko by her relatives; although not always understanding their import at the time, Silko came to realize that such stories include practical or moral instruction. Other tales and poems are imaginative reconstructions of ancient myths or are Silko’s responses to her immediate environment. Throughout, the connective thread is Silko’s experience of life as an American Indian woman.

Silko assumes many guises as a storyteller and becomes many narrators, each with an individual voice. With equal versatility, she is the Inuk girl who tricks her parents’ killer to his death, the mythic Yellow Woman riding into the mountains with her lover, or herself as a child, tormenting her uncle’s goat. As she demonstrates so forcefully in Ceremony, she capably creates male characters, catching the rougher resonances of their voices as well. Two striking stories narrated by male characters are “Tony’s Story” and “Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand.”

In the first, Silko focuses on the killing of a New Mexico state patrol officer, seen from the point of view of one of the participants....

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Storyteller Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A collection of autobiographical sketches, poems, family photographs, and short stories, Storyteller fuses literary and extraliterary material into a mosaic portrait of cultural heritage and of conflict between the two ethnic groups composing her heritage, the European American and the Native American.

The title story, “Storyteller,” presents that conflict from the point of view of a young Inuit woman who is fascinated with and repulsed by white civilization. Set in Alaska—the only major work of the author not in a Southwestern setting—the story follows her thoughts and observations as she spends her days amid these contrasting cultures. The old man with whom she lives and who has used her sexually—“she knew what he wanted”—is the storyteller. Now bedridden with age and the cold, subsisting on dried fish, which he keeps under his pillow, the old man narrates a tale, carefully, insistently, about a hunter on the ice facing a challenge from a bear.

Between the beginning and end of his own tale, the Inuit woman’s story unfolds. She went to the government school, but largely out of curiosity, and although she remembers being whipped by one of the teachers, her fascination with whites—the “Gussucks,” as she calls them—only deepened when she observed their oil rigs, their large yellow machines, and their metal buildings. Gradually she learns that the Gussucks are not so much to be respected or feared but rather...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Storyteller Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Leslie Marmon Silko’s collection of short fiction and poetry, Storyteller, is unique in shape and composition. It literally does not fit easily on a bookshelf nor can it be easily classified, given that it consists of short fiction, poetry, Laguna Pueblo legends and myths, personal family reminiscences, and photographs. The collection comprises eight short stories by Silko; twenty-six photographs by Silko’s father, Lee Marmon, and her grandfather, Henry “Grandpa Hank” Marmon; and fifty-nine lyric and narrative poems. Some of these poems are original works by Silko and others are her version of narratives concerning traditional Laguna Pueblo legend and myth. The eight short stories include Silko’s first-ever published story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” as well as some of her most acclaimed and anthologized stories, including “Lullaby” and “Yellow Woman.”

In both her literary practice and her rare interviews, Silko has emphasized that Pueblo expression is not linear but circular; she often uses the metaphor of the spiderweb to describe multiple sequences of threads, radiating from the center.

Silko begins the collection with narrative poems that relate signature events in the history of the Marmon family. The family, which operated the general merchandise store at Laguna for decades in the early twentieth century, had intermarried with Laguna Pueblo and with Latinos. A story by Aunt Susie introduces the first foray into Laguna folktale, and the mixed genres of poetry, short story, photography, and Laguna myth and legend are interweaved in the remainder of the volume, as Silko returns to recurrent themes. These themes include survival, the immanence of spirits, the importance of rain, the inevitability of periodic drought, and the compelling examples of Yellow Woman and Coyote, both as legendary figures and in their present-day personifications, in the life and culture of the Laguna Pueblos in New Mexico.

In the title short story, set in a small town in Alaska, an unnamed young Yupik woman, certainly a contemporary Yellow Woman of sorts, notices the leering looks of a Gussuck (from the term “Cossack,” a word used to describe nonnative folk). She intentionally lures him across thin ice. The ice breaks, and he drowns. As the story concludes, the Yupik woman asserts to authorities that she had murdered the man, though village children who had seen the accident explain to the state trooper and the local attorney that it was indeed an accident.

“Lullaby,” an oft-anthologized story, including in college readers, describes the levels of loss suffered by an elderly couple, Chato and Ayah. Most of the story describes Ayah looking for the presumably drunken Chato as a snowstorm obscures the landscape. She recalls losing their son, Jimmie,...

(The entire section is 1149 words.)

Storyteller (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

ph_0111226297-Silko.jpgLeslie Marmon Silko Published by Salem Press, Inc.

As a person and as an artist, Leslie Marmon Silko defies easy classification. Some might consider her a regional author in that most of her writing emphasizes place and has as its setting the towns, villages, rivers, mesas, and mountains of north central and northwestern New Mexico—in and around Albuquerque, where she was born, and the Laguna Pueblo Reservation (near Grants and Gallup) where she grew up. Alaska, too, in a lesser way figures as a setting in her work since she spent 1974 writing in Ketchikan. At present she lives in Tucson, where she is on the faculty of the University of Arizona—and that locale also finds its way into her work.

She might also be regarded as an ethnic author who, because of her own mixed ancestry (Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, and white), has as a major concern the culture of native Americans confronting that of Anglo-Americans and Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Moreover, insofar as Silko developed as a writer against the larger background of the Vietnam War, of the Civil Rights and the Women’s movements, others might view her in political or feminist terms. She might also be identified as a poet, a writer of short stories, a novelist, and a teacher. While all such classifying is to some degree useful—primarily in underscoring her versatility—it is best to consider Silko first as an artist who just happens to be a woman with Indian ancestry, someone who grew up in the West and is a member of the postwar generation. All of these biographical and aesthetic factors are in one way or another present in Storyteller.

After the watershed publication of N. Scott Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel House Made of Dawn in 1969, the one book which is most credited with beginning a renaissance in contemporary native American literature, Silko’s fiction and poetry began to gain attention in numerous journals and in widely read anthologies. These works include, The Man to Send Rain Clouds (1974), Voices of the Rainbow (1975), and The Remembered Earth (1979). It was the appearance of Silko’s novel Ceremony in 1977, however, which positioned her alongside Momaday’s achievement. (Others, such as Silko’s Acoma Pueblo friend and colleague, Simon Ortiz, and the Montana Blackfeet/Gros Ventre writer, James Welch, have achieved similar high critical acclaim for their part in the recent surge of native American literature.)

In some ways Storyteller is a regrouping of Silko’s past works—taking many stories which shared the limelight with other native American authors in The Man to Send Rain Clouds and positioning them among numerous other previously published works—including excerpts from Ceremony. There are new works in Storyteller as well, however, and the entire book takes on a fresh and coherent identity of its own in the very rearrangement of materials—and in the beautiful, personally revealing photographs which appear at intervals throughout the book. Some of the photographs are professionally taken by Silko’s father and some are more amateurish in nature. Both kinds complement the text.

Thus, Storyteller is far from a hodgepodge of random narratives and images. Rather, it affords striking proof that the storyteller’s art resides not only in the tale but in the manner of telling, in rhythms, tonalities, and inflections; in emphasis and proportion; in the teller’s voice.

Silko dedicates her book “to the storytellers as far back as memory goes” and suggests that it is with the help of the affirmations which stories provide, in all their forms, that life is lived at its keenest. This power of storytelling, of words, is also a major theme in Ceremony wherein the novel’s protagonist, Tayo, is led back to spiritual and psychological wholeness through words and their ritualized enactment. Ts’its’tsi’nako, Thought-Woman, who spider-like weaves out the story of Tayo’s regeneration as her thoughts become words, is equally busy in Storyteller as the patterns of the book are woven together.

In its outermost pattern, serving as a border of sorts, Storyteller is a photo album of recent generations of Silko’s family. There is Aunt Susie, who, as a member of the Reyes family of Paguate, New Mexico, married Walter K. Marmon, the brother of Silko’s paternal grandfather; as a woman enamored with books and words, she went far in imprinting on her niece the magic of writing and of telling stories—the magic of memory and the oral tradition whereby generations achieve continuity. What Silko remembers of Aunt Susie is her own remembering of the telling of old Laguna stories, several of which Silko, as a kind of replica of her aunt, retells. Silko goes beyond these stories, however, to her own inventions. These are offered in the loving voice of a mother speaking to her daughter, filled...

(The entire section is 2011 words.)

Storyteller Summary

The story begins with a young woman in a jail cell. The reason for her incarceration is not known. She is looking out of the window and sees...

(The entire section is 878 words.)