Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

One’s identity is an amalgamation of many ingredients, the most important of these being, perhaps, one’s heritage. Harnessing the forces of heredity and environment has never been an easy task. It becomes even more complicated when one does not belong to the mainstream of society. Having a mixed ancestry further compounds the problem, especially when those two elements are derived from a mutually adversarial relationship. Such is the context of Hogan’s “The Truth Is.”

The speaker’s desire to reconcile the Native American and the European parts of her heritage permeates her life. If only she could create a distinctly new identity from this mix, life would be peaceful and simple for her. However, it does not happen this way. She realizes that the underlying, persistent clashes that are revived by the memory of historical wrongdoings, and, occasionally, by interruptions from the present will continue to be a part of her existence. Her reassurance to herself that she should forget about the past and live in the present helps her to accept the situation.

Ignoring the existence of this tension is of no avail; she cannot carry the pretense of being unconcerned for too long. The solution, then, is to acknowledge the truth and keep treading one’s path. In her own life, Hogan seems to have achieved that equilibrium. In Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak (1985), she admits that though her mixed heritage creates “a natural tension that surfaces” in her work, she has learned to use it to her advantage to strengthen her imagination.

Discussing Native American poetry, scholar Brian Swann observes, “Most poems reach for balance, for sanity in a mad world, in the face of antagonism, past and present. One sees a desire for wholeness—for balance, reconciliation, and healing—within the individual, the tribe, the community, the nation” (Harper’s Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry, 1988). Hogan’s poem reflects this tradition. “The Truth Is,” in the end, transcends the speaker-poet’s feelings and speaks to all those who share her experience of struggling to reconcile the different strands of their heritage.