I am really confused on Indian Jenny's role in the conflict within Sometimes a Great Notion. I know she has a huge crush on Henry but other then that what role does she play? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With a work that is ambitious as Sometimes a Great Notion, intricacy and complexity dots the narrative landscape.  Indian Jenny is one such example. Kesey argues that one of his primary concerns in the novel's development is the idea that "You have to fight for life and freedom and individuality and then fight to keep it."  Being able to live life and life for life outside of external construction is critical to the identity of characters in the novel.  It is the reason that Viv ends up choosing her path, and while Henry is tethered to his.  In this conception, Indian Jenny might occupy a type of individuality that exists outside of the realm of external control.  The familial motto of "Never Give an Inch" speaks of a desire to appropriate the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity.  It articulates a vision of of how individuals seek to control and dominate that which is around them.  

The Stamper Family's insistence on battling the unions and the natural world such as the trees and the river is in stark contrast to the spiritual construction of freedom that Indian Jenny represents. Jenny represents the spurned love of Henry.  However, she comes to embody much more in the narrative. Kesey repeatedly uses Indian Jenny to speak of a world that exists outside of traditional Western control.  For example, he employs language that describes Jenny in an other- worldly context:  “Oh clouds . . . oh rain. I call down all sorts bad weather an’ bad luck on Hank Stamper, uh-huh!”  Another example of this would be a direct reference to the lotus condition of Jenny:  "At her shack on the clamflats Indian Jenny sits on her cot in a position as close as she can come to the full lotus." The ability of the lotus to emerge from the world and not take the form of it is in direct contradiction to the Stamper family's desire and need for control of the world and all of those within it.  Jenny embodies a condition of the world and a facet of human identity that exists outside of the realm of control and manipulation.   Kesey develops his idea that the "fight for life and individuality" can exist in a realm that is not of the manipulative control found in the world.  It is in this light where Indian Jenny's role in the conflict can assume significance in the novel's thematic development. 

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Sometimes a Great Notion

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