Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In Wind from an Enemy Sky, D’Arcy McNickle, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kutenai tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation, born and educated in Montana, writes of the difficult period in American history during which the United States government attempted to subdue Native Americans peacefully. McNickle, a government employee for most of his life, presents a balanced view of what occurred during this period in one small Native American enclave in the Flathead Lake-St. Ignatius area of Montana.
On the surface, McNickle presents the story of a Native American extended family that includes Pock Face, who, carrying his grandfather’s rifle, steals furtively into a canyon where white developers have built a dam on tribal land. The Little Elk Indians equate the damming of their river with its murder. The dam has an immediate negative impact upon fishing and farming on their tribal lands.
As Pock Face and Theobald, his cousin, approach the dam, they spy a white man walking across its surface. Pock Face fires one shot. Jim Cooke, ironically on his last day of work before going east to marry, dies instantly.
The remainder of the story revolves around the government’s efforts to mete out justice to the murderer. This surface story, however, provides the justification for a compelling subtext that illustrates the difficulties involved when one well-established culture attempts to impose itself upon another. Wind from an Enemy Sky, maintaining throughout an objective view of two disparate cultures, proffers a poignant political and social statement about culture and values in multi-ethnic settings.
Readers will feel empathy for members of the two major societies depicted in the novel, even though these societies remain at loggerheads and are divided within themselves. Toby Rafferty, the government agent in charge of the Little Elk Reservation, and Doc Edwards, the agency physician, have...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Larson, Charles R. “Books in English in the Third World.” World Literature Today 53 (Spring, 1979): 247. Larson calls The Surrounded “the most significant novel by an American Indian written before World War II.” He then discusses the forty-year lapse between that book and Wind from an Enemy Sky, which he sees as concerning “conflicting loyalties within the Indian community.”
Owens, Louis, “The Map of the Mind’: D’Arcy McNickle and the American Indian Novel.” Western American Literature 19 (Winter, 1985): 275-283. Owens discusses The Surrounded and Wind from an Enemy Sky, focusing on the problems of communication between the white and Indian worlds.
Parker, Dorothy. Singing an Indian Song: A Biography of D’Arcy McNickle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Details McNickle’s early years at a boarding school and his lengthy career as an agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Provides information crucial to the interpretation of his fiction.
Purdy, John L. The Legacy of D’Arcy McNickle: Writer, Historian, Activist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. Presents a thorough, annotated bibliography of McNickle’s published articles, as well as book reviews of his works. Devotes a chapter to Wind from an Enemy Sky.
Purdy, John L. Word Ways: The Novels of D’Arcy McNickle. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990. A thorough critical discussion of McNickle’s fiction. Purdy focuses on McNickle’s use of Native American oral tradition to enhance the written conventions of the novel.
Ruppert, James. D’Arcy McNickle. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1988. An entry in the Western Writers Series that gives a good overview of McNickle’s life and work.
Vest, Jay Hansford C. “Feather Boy’s Promise: Sacred Geography and Environmental Ethics in D’Arcy McNickle’s Wind from an Enemy Sky.” American Indian Quarterly 17 (Winter, 1993): 45-68. Focuses on the Little Elk tribe’s medicine bundle and its relationship to the Native American environmental ethic. Sees Wind from an Enemy Sky as a trickster narrative.