The Woman Who Owned the Shadows Essay - Critical Essays

Paula Marie Francis

Critical Context

Allen, who describes herself as of mixed Laguna Pueblo, Sioux, and Lebanese American heritage, is a scholar, a professor, and a poet. The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, her first novel, was published by the feminist press Spinsters/Aunt Lute and is Allen’s testament to the empowerment and direction that tradition offers to the individual. In the work, she examines how Native Americans can incorporate their tribal beliefs into twentieth century America. The layering of tribal stories within the main plot, as well as fundamental reliance on a tribal notion belief of the interconnectedness of reality, firmly establishes The Woman Who Owned the Shadows in the genre of tribal literature. She follows in a tradition of Native American writers who operate on tribal sensibilities, such as N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko. The novel, additionally, makes a zealous feminist statement emphasizing the matriarchal line of power through knowledge and female spirits.

In 1986, Allen’s feminist critical study on woman lore in Native American traditions, entitled The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, was published. In that work, she discusses both the feminine and feminist aspects of tribal traditions and history as well as current Native American literature and critical studies. Within the book, she critiques her own novel and the works of a number of well-established Native American writers. Her discussion of tribal literature skillfully illuminates the complexities inherent in describing an art form rooted in a particular culture. Allen explores the assumptions underlying literary criticism and the writing of literature, examining concepts such as ceremonial time as compared to Western industrial time and the use of myth and dream vision in Native American literature.

Allen has written two major volumes of poetry, Shadow Country (1982) and Wyrds (1987), in addition to many chapbooks of poetry. She edited a collection of critical essays entitled Studies in American Indian Literature (1983) and a collection of Native American women’s myths entitled Grandmothers of the Light (1991). Additionally, a portion of Allen’s work entitled Raven’s Road appeared in a 1986 collection of works in progress by Native American writers.